Saturday, October 23, 2010

SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946)


El Paso Herald-Post, 29 March 1958

"A crazed monster stalks El Paso"? It's as good a way as any to promote a SHOCK!! (note the extra exclamation point) screening of THE SHE-WOLF OF LONDON on Channel 13, I suppose... but it is a cheat. There's no monster--she-wolf or otherwise, either in London or El Paso--and I think that there were a lot of viewers who were disappointed when they stayed up late through the musical stylings of "The Lawrence Welk Show" to find this out the hard way.

It's too bad, because there are some good pieces which are put into place during the course of this movie that the seasoned horror experts at Universal could have easily used to pull off a decent monster movie-- for instance, right after the movie starts, we hear a very scary bloodcurdling scream that we later learn was the sound of a ten year-old boy being "horribly mangled" in a night- and fog-shrouded park. How much more do you need to launch a monster movie? But, in the end, the filmmakers pull their punches, unfortunately.

People who dislike this movie will completely disagree with me, but I think that SHE-WOLF OF LONDON would have been a little bit better if it had been about 20 minutes longer. I read in Weaver, Brunas, & Brunas's Universal Horrors that the script originally called for some scenes relating to the legend of the Allenby Curse and Phyllis (June Lockhart) as a little girl first learning about it. Some of the scenes may have been shot, Universal Horrors says, but they ended up being cut out prior to the movie's theatrical release. Even if the filmmakers had still balked at monsterizing this movie, I still think that the inclusion of these scenes would have considerably improved the tone and tension in the picture.

It was probably the success of RKO's psychological horror movie CAT PEOPLE in 1942 that is responsible for this misfire, which tries hard to get the ambiance right but ends up just being a tired rehash of the GASLIGHT/MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS "nervous breakdown" melodrama. The story makes a lot of how the Allenby household is female-only-- a couple characters comment on it in a way that's supposed to remind the viewers of that fact-- so I suspect that the idea was to use this plot point to add an unstable element of hysteria into the whole thing; hysteria in the Victoria era was a medical diagnosis that was all the rage and it was an affliction that affected primarily women and un-masculine males. As Phyllis starts freaking out about her suspected werewolfism, she exhibits all the classic symptoms of the neurasthenic woman made famous in that fascinating Freudian mumbo-jumbo from the turn of the nineteenth century. But this is all implied vaguely and never really exploited for maximum narrative efffect in the course of the movie.

In the mid-1950s-- those days before movie-guide books and the IMDb --most people only had the movie synopsis printed in the television viewers' guide to gauge what a film was about; as we see in the El Paso Herald-Post listing above, the description was the same one provided in the SHOCK! catalog that Screen Gems had put together which naturally played up the supernatural terror. Imagine how let down you would have been if you saw that listing a week in advance and tossed it around in your mind for six days as you anxiously waited until Saturday night to see it. I'm guessing that the disappointment would've been as sharp as if you had seen it at the theater as part of Halloween "Double Horror Show" in 1946 (see below), but it may have been worse on television because of the movie's plodding plotting... trying to string your attention along through a commercial block every 25 minutes (from an appliance store, in the example of the El Paso ad reproduced above) probably made for a long, dreary viewing experience.

Denton [TX] Record-Chronicle, October 1946





Next: "Thrills galore are coming your way with DRACULA, the full-length feature presentation on Shock. Bela Lugosi stars in one of his eeriest roles as the human vampire who could live only when his victims died. For chilling, thrilling entertainment, don't miss DRACULA."

3 comments:

Mirek said...

I want to see that movie that's in the Denton ad!

There's some palpable Universal horror atmosphere placed about this film, but it certainly doesn't hold a warm place in hearts of classic horror fans. It's a challenge to try to find something consistently positive with it, but I do like challenges, so I may give it another try one day.

The Creeping Bride said...

I like this movie more than I probably make it sound here. I saw it for the first time only about 18 months ago and I knew well in advance that there was no monster to be had, so I wasn't burned by high expectations. I enjoy a lot of the more atmospheric, high-strung murder-mysteries of the 1930s and 1940s, so I have no problem liking this one-- as you say, Mirek, it is heavy on mood. But if you go in looking for werewolves (or for something like what's being shown in the Denton ad!), then you're gonna come away angry, and I think that a lot of people felt that they had been bait-&-switch'ed by this one.

Ironically, I think it probably still happens today, since SHE-WOLF is included in Uni's 2004 "WOLF MAN" Legacy Collection on DVD... unsuspecting viewers sit through THE WOLF MAN, WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, and then get the SHE-WOLF, leaving many to complain about the lack of lycanthropes.

kochillt said...

It's a shame that this film didn't allow for a real monster, as the semi-remake DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL did. Dependable players like Don Porter and Martin Kosleck always help these forgettable titles go down easier. Shame on Universal for needlessly ripping off the title of their first werewolf film, WEREWOLF OF LONDON. This one aired 7 times on CHILLER THEATER.