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Monday, October 16, 2023

All of a Sudden Moved By One I've Seen So Often ...


Werewolf of London Attacks on Lots of Levels

Werewolves are largely class-conscious, tending to come of landed gentry, this to enhance tragedy as visited upon a lycanthrope. Dr. Wilfred Glendon is an aristocrat who plays at botany as he can well afford to, a hobbyist whose manor is given over to exotic gardening and a laboratory where he will cultivate the “Mariphasa,” a flower which apart from blooming by moonlight, has little practical application other than to serve as temporary antidote to werewolfery, a benefit Dr. Glendon was unaware of over six month effort he made to locate the obscure plant. Dr. Glendon’s research does not appear to have been peer-reviewed, his inquiries made solo with little interest to share findings with an outside scientific community. He is rich enough not to care if the Mariphasa ever yields a penny or pound, a “Botanical Society” he chairs gathered at his home to admire plant oddities, members less intrigued by Glendon’s research than furtherance of their own social ambitions, several in fact relatives of his.

Dr. Glendon has a looker of a wife he ignores. She is preyed upon less by him in werewolf guise than by former beau “Captain Paul Ames,” (Lester Matthews) also born to status, exploring about in his plane and operating a flight school. Ames is a deeply unsympathetic character trying to snake another man’s wife by telling her how “horribly, miserably unhappy” she really is and pretending to care while wanting to score her because after all she is Valerie Hobson (scroll down), and he knows like everyone that she is neglected. “Won’t you tell an old pal how to help?” he asks, a deft opener line familiar to would-be seducers of married women, Mrs. Glendon giving him the go signal by replying “There’s been no fight in me since the night we broke things off.” These two have got coming whatever lupine assault they are liable to get. Dr. Glendon despite his distractions and humorless nature does not deserve intrusion upon sanctity of his home, what with realizing he is down with something dreaded and cannot seek or expect help. Are we drawn to monsters for how they suffer? Werewolves never arrive at their condition through poor judgment or recklessness. Fate finds them bitten and infected and that is that. Our sympathies are with lycanthropes and depending on one’s mood when watching, project ourselves upon their misery and isolation.

To Glendon impasse comes Dr. Yogami, “student and nurturist of plants,” formerly instructor at a “Carpathian University,” and played masterfully by Warner Oland. Dr. Yogami was the werewolf who infected Dr. Glendon and acknowledges as much. The pair are “lost souls” and nothing can relieve them but the prickly stem of the Mariphasa, which Glendon has and Yogami wants. Oland at one point steps forward to extreme closeup wherein he confides urgency of the crisis he shares with Glendon, gently laying hand upon the other man’s sleeve to indicate where he, in werewolf guise, inflicted the wound. Yogami is an intense melancholic, Oland’s performance beyond mere inhabit of the character. There was much of Yogami in Oland based on what I’ve read of this troubled man who died two years later after much of a lifetime tormented by alcohol and moods that saw him often disappear for reasons unaccounted. Warner Oland for me confers deep sadness upon all his parts save Charlie Chan.

Offscreen travail could and often did enrich what a player brought to parts, benefit that genius derives in compensation perhaps for being a bit mad. English ultra-talent Stephen Fry was once asked, if allowed to push a button that would exorcise demon that was his bipolar condition, would he push it? Fry said no. He recognized a deepest if frightful source of his extraordinary skills, these essential to keep no matter agonies that came with them. Not sure for what reasons Warner Oland suffered, but they ran deep, exhibited if unknowingly for our gratification, and I hope his momentary relief, by performances unique and not capturable by others prior or since. Yogami will do what is necessary to possess the Mariphasa, but we understand his reasons and sympathize with acts needed to at least postpone damnation. Did Oland reveal himself through vessel that was Yogami? Intensity of his performance suggests so. 

Actor Henry Hull has been called stolid or too theatrical. For me, in this instance, he is neither. Dr. Glendon had problems well before embarking upon eccentric quest for the Mariphasa. Of what possible use was such a plant to mankind? --- yet his pursuit is single-minded, venturing into a “valley filled with demons” against which he is warned, but Glendon dwells in his own valley that is solitude, as do many researchers consumed by their interest, whether it be the Mariphasa or … old films like Werewolf of London? Glendon’s absorption in peculiar plants render him odd to wellborn peers put off by specimen that consume insects and frogs. Could any marriage flourish amidst this? Lisa Glendon married wisely if not well, choosing one of the “black Glendons,” a family of her class, and being practical, Lisa must and will marry within that class. Wilfred surely intrigued her initially, for doesn’t membership among aristocracy permit a man to pursue his own lights without regard to necessaries other men must labor to acquire? Such privilege as Wilfred is heir to gives him time, resource, and license to be the singular person he is, but what becomes of those able to live precisely as they please? We all have it in us to chase after one Mariphasa or another, friends/family to wonder why. Wilfred had the misfortune to find his, but who could have put brakes on him, other than fellow werewolf who is Yogami who understands Glendon more completely than anyone.

Werewolfery thus intrudes into lives of victims already given to addictive or at the least immoderate behavior. We want all of Mariphasas to bloom so both Wilfred and Yogami may find relief, but like with any substance abused, there is knowing that one, even a hundred, such flowers, can never be enough. Lycanthropy compels interest for being a most secret of sufferings, a reason I find werewolves uniquely believable among monsters otherwise fanciful. Wilfred achieves state of poignant grace when, alone and in throes of anxiety, prays “Father in Heaven, don’t let this happen to me again,” panic disorder writ largest, but are episodes we might experience so markedly different? Whatever … it is such moments that distinguish Werewolf of London for me. Wilfred’s powerful exit line is one any of us might summon when curtains descend: “In a few moments, I shall know why all this had to be.” Bravo to whoever penned such memorable farewell for this Werewolf of London.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

My wife & I were watching the 1966 movie "The Chase" a year or two ago when Henry Hull appeared. "Hey," I shouted gleefully, "that's the werewolf of London!" Then when Miriam Hopkins turned up, I yelped, "Hey, remember her as Temple Drake?" So much for stars Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Thanks for yet another piece of beautifully crafted filmic pondering. You've definitely got me wanting to watch this one again - probably later today. Maybe I'll wait till after dark - for maximum mood enhancement.

8:34 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Excellent analysis. Now wondering if the broader Hollywood affliction of living as well as manufacturing fictions figured, with writer, director and cast identifying without quite understanding why.

You might contrast with "The Invisible Ray", where the script sides with the neglected wife and her nice young man against Boris Karloff's obsessed scientist turned luminous strangler. More silly than possibly deep, the film cycles through multiple genres: Gothic horror setup turns into science fiction; followed by polite romantic intrigue on safari; and finally Poe-like murders in Paris.

Also thinking of Dr. Jekyll, no mere hobbyist but an idealist who begins by trying to medically exorcise evil from the human soul. Hyde is less an actual monster than a decadent gentleman writ large, different from the respectable rich men haunting alleys mainly in degree. His Hollywood analogue might be the reform-minded artist who ends up producing pandering garbage.

Hammer's werewolf was cursed by God because he was born out of wedlock on Christmas -- hardly his fault, nor even his innocent mother's (as luridly explained in the first reels). Literary and cinematic curses are usually attributed to evil magic or made-up heathen gods, but here they have the Christian deity laying down a vicious, unjust punishment on babies born on a certain day. Wondering if somebody on that film was dealing with a crisis of faith.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I liked the old ladies providing comic relief in this.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Some Monster Kids have found latter-day worth in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, worth which eluded viewers for decades. I am not among them.

I do find Henry Hull much too stiff and stolid. Oland gives, by far, the film's best performance, but he's barely there.

I find Lester Matthews character just as loathsome as you do, and Hobson's almost as much. And Matthews himself is an unpleasant oafish dandy in my eyes. I fear someday reading that he was a great guy, loved kids and dogs, was generous with charity, took care of an ailing momma. I don't want to read that. I get way too much joy from despising the guy and don't want to lose it.

The writers do give the werewolf a nice, poetic sendoff. Then as "The End" unrolls we see an airplane flying off. Probably this contains Matthews' cad and Hobson's ho. The proper ending for the movie should have had the plane explode as the last frames run through the projector.

Fuhgeddaboudit. Bring on Larry Talbot.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The Larry Talbot Wolfman is an entirely different creature, and so this is a very different story; and that is mostly because Larry Talbot was unmarried when he was afflicted.
The Oland character in this film stresses to Hull that "The werewolf is driven to destroy the things he loves most" - that wasn't made so very clear in the Larry Talbot version, so that the Talbot-Wolfman has an unmotivated, entirely wild (therefore dangerous) and chaotic will to destroy, while Hull's character moves himself into the "bad side" of town to get away from his wife, knowing that she was what he loved most and thus was in the most danger of his directed destructiveness as the Wolfman - for Hull's Wolfman, unlike Talbot's has a compulsive "method to its madness".
I'm now beginning to think that the Wolfman story in this 1930s incarnation was partly based on the guys who came back home from fighting in WW 1 suffering from PTSD and whose problems subsequently ruined their family lives.
But as this "the wolfman is driven to destroy what he loves most" point remains un-emphasized in "The Wolfman" (if it's mentioned at all), Larry Talbot's random violence as the Wolfman by contrast becomes more of a generalized morality tale, warning against the "uncontrolled wild violent side" in all men - I mean all people.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Took the time to re-watch the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolfman, and it's a great film; but Larry Talbot is not only unmarried, he's actively breaking up an engaged couple at the time he's bitten by the werewolf, and there's no mention at all in the film of the werewolf "being driven to destroy the ones he loves" - they really are each their own films, with only the fact there's a werewolf as the central character in common between the two.
They're both great; but perhaps the quality of the supporting cast in the Chaney film gives it the edge.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

This was my favourite Werewolf make-up when I first saw it pictured in James Warren and Forrest J (no period after the "J" please) Ackerman's wonderful FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. The movie, when I first saw it (like DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN) took me awhile to appreciate on its own terms.

Warner Oland's Fu Manchu, which thanks to Kino Lorber I can now see in terrific quality, may have a touch of sadness but I have yet to see it.

Great post. I especially love the two old biddies from one of whom Glendon rents a room.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Whenever I see the scene where his wife turns on him near the end, I wish his werewolf would have torn her throat out & her lover`s as well.

1:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the melancholy of Warner Oland's character in WEREWOLF OF LONDON:

There is wonderful insight in noting the melancholy of the Warner Oland character. So often among ourselves this aspect is found in a secret sadness, that were people to truly see us as we are, they should turn away. It may be that we have a certain perspective or other interests, other desires or appetites, or something that disfigures us inwardly. It sets us apart and that is often enough. Yet we yearn to be loved for just who we are, even as we realize, as they do not, that we never can be so loved. Consequently, every relationship is fraught with the risk of revelation, that the more closely another approaches us, the more likely it is that that person will realize who we are. The tragedy for us is that, as the distance closes, our hearts may open to the possibility of loving and being loved. It is a temptation difficult to resist. The inevitable rejection must be felt all the more keenly for that. The element of lycanthropy in this story, then, becomes a metaphor for that inner disfigurement which must be kept hidden, if the afflicted party is to live among men and enjoy at least the hope of being loved. What he fears, however, must be given expression apart from his desires. The lights set in the heavens for signs and portents ceaselessly turn, and with each cycle comes that which destroys all which had been sought.

The last line, "In a few moments, I shall know why all this had to be," is powerful not merely for its application to the dying protagonist, but to all of us who wonder at the purpose of our lives. Our faith may suggest, however, that in Divine Providence all things are bent to a good end.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I'm a little late jumping in here, but had to comment - this one is an all-time favorite and my gateway drug to golden age Universal horror films. Twelve year old me had already visited select 50's era Sci-Fi delights, but the Shock Theater stuff was hidden away in weekly Saturday midnight airings. Using all the powers of adolescent persuasion I finally brokered a deal with my parents - two back-to-back weeks of late night viewing, then four weeks of abstinence (or something like that. Hell, this was sixty years ago!) Anyway, WEREWOLF OF LONDON was my maiden dip into Universal horror and it was love at first bite. Unretouched photos suggest the controversial make-up was probably one of Jack Pierce's quickest applications, but for me it remains one of his most brilliant designs. This is MY werewolf, and I can never pass up an opportunity to watch it one more time. To this day I drive my wife nuts shouting "Turn out those lights, those beastly lights!" at moments even vaguely appropriate. And if she ever makes mention of a full moon for any reason, I'm just as likely to make a noise that supposed to be the little three note signature from Karl Hajos' wonderful score. Love this one and will always prefer it over later, arguably better wolf-guy presentations.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

One more comment. My wife and I watched "Werewolf of London" on Halloween evening. Her first time, while I hadn't seen it in many years. Our take on Hull's wife and her ex-bf are quite different than those expressed here. It's pretty clear from the get-go that Henry Hull is so involved in his work -- he was on that search for the flower for six months! -- that he has no time for his wife. Of course she's miserable. Of course her ex misses the woman she used to be. Even if Hull hadn't been attacked by Oland, he still would have been a lousy husband. If anyone is to blame here, it's Hull -- why did he get married to begin with when his work would always come first?

4:38 PM  

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