Thursday, November 08, 2012

I see Wolf People

Last year I reviewed She-Wolf of London with hopes of seeing some hairy women eating raw meat. No dice. This year I checked out Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Wolf Man double feature, with the addition of 1935's Werewolf of London, created six years before Americans cashed in on the lycanthrope profit margin. Hairy men there were, but no eating of freshly dead flesh. *le sigh*

In retrospect they weren't as thoughtful as She-Wolf but what they lacked in intellect they made up for with Chaney's weight-of-the-world worried looks. Every time he pleaded for someone to believe his story, I just wanted to feed him milk and cookies and watch a marathon of The Golden Girls to cheer him up.
See what I mean?
The Wolfman
(1941) ****1/2

This horror classic begins with the homecoming of Larry Tolbert (Chaney), who lives in the shadow of his father's success. Larry's brother, and clearly Daddy's favorite, has been killed in a hunting accident with Larry -- all I can say is that's what you get for hunting with a Chaney, bub. Larry attempts to mend his relationship with his father as well as establish himself in the village by getting to know some of the locals. Namely, the attractive antique store owner's daughter Gwen.
Things start picking up when Larry and Gwen are on a midnight stroll during a full moon and Larry is bitten by a wolf. He kills it in self-defense with his silver-topped walking cane, but the next day discovers that he bears the sign of the Werewolf, a pentagram, on his chest. What's funny is the pentagram looks more like a cartoon star so it isn't so frightening; it looks as if he took a lot of drugs and asked a friend for a "trust tattoo." The rest of the movie is fairly predictable so I smacked off 1/2-star.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
(1943) ***
It's been four Cinema years since Larry Talbot's reign as the Wolf Man and two Earth years since audiences have seen Lon Chaney, Jr. get dressed up as a common ancestor of the Wookie. Larry Talbot wants to put himself out of the misery of transforming into the Wolf Man every full moon and recruits the assistance of the same old gypsy woman from the previous film, who is acquainted with Dr. Frankenstein. With his only hope of being cured gone, Larry decides he wants to die.
There's that poor, tortured look Chaney is so good at!
I found Larry's desire to end himself an interesting parallel with the mad scientist subgenre of Frankenstein: the mortal scientists want to discover new ways to live forever, and yet the monstrosities they create or encounter want to end theirs. It brings a unique perspective of the voice of the Creature as an Other whom supposedly exemplifies our most carnal desires. The Creature can intimidate and do whatever he wants, and gets away fast enough so that there are no repercussions. This reminds me of a couple of months ago when JSP and I were watching an episode of "The Incredible Hulk" and I jokingly asked what the motive of the Hulk would be in any given situation, and doesn't the Hulk feel imposed upon by transforming back to Dr. Banner?

Anyway the monster-crossover works in this situation but the ending feels rushed and without any reflection from supporting characters afterwards.

Werewolf of London
(1935) **** 1/2
Squaring off the Werewolf Legacy was this gem, opening in Tibet with a couple of botanists hunting down a rare form of flower that only blooms under a full moon. One of the scientists, Wilfred Glendon, takes it home to study and is perfecting a lamp capable of emitting light similar to that of a full moon. What he hasn't told his beautiful-but-neglected wife Lisa is that he was bitten by a werewolf in struggle to obtain this flower. A fellow botanist named Yogami confronts him at a social party and informs him that the flower is a cure for lycanthropy. Yogami goes on to philosophize about the psychology of the werewolf: they instinctively kill that which they love the most.

Glendon's first transformation into a full werewolf was hilarious because before he leaves the house to look for someone to kill, he instinctively grabs his cap and coat. Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Wolf Man always dresses down before going out for a bite.
In the end, Werewolf of London delivers and brings several things to werewolf lore that aren't discussed in other werewolf movies such as the flower or if the Wolf Person can speak after transformation. In this version, too, there is no mention of using silver whatsoever! I think Werewolf of London was overshadowed by 1941's The Wolf Man and we missed out on some key plot devices that could have been used in the following decades. I haven't seen American Werewolf in London but after watching these three I am definitely hooked to the werewolf story.


Johnny Sweatpants said...

"Every time he pleaded for someone to believe his story, I just wanted to feed him milk and cookies and watch a marathon of The Golden Girls to cheer him up." You and me both kiddo!

I'm glad you tackled these. I was completely charmed by Lon Chaney Jr. this year.

I don't recall having watched Werewolf of London.

Catfreeek said...

Way to go Crystal! Nice job taking on the wolf clan, I don't think I've ever seen that last one either but it sounds great.

Octopunk said...

Nice roundup of old goodies! My favorite werewolf movies are Dog Soldiers and An American Werewolf in London, in that order.

I believe JSP posited years ago that the wolfman/werewolf difference was all about Chaney Jr.'s regretful whining.

JPX said...

Terrific roundup!I agree with all of your ratings (although Werewolf of London might be slightly too generous imho). I love these old "classic" monsters. You must check out the other monsters sets (although I would not recommend The Mummy fils, they're slow and boring). Chaney's tortured character must have been the inspiration for Bruce Banner.