Saturday, 28 January 2012

She-Wolf of London (1946)

If you were going to teach a course in how not to make a horror movie She-Wolf of London would be the ideal teaching aid. This 1946 Universal clunker ticks just about all the bad movie boxes.

Few things are more annoying than a horror movie that turns out not to be a horror movie because there aren’t really any supernatural elements, it’s really just a murder mystery. But there is one thing more annoying - a movie of that type where it’s obvious from the start that there’s not really anything supernatural happening. And there’s one thing that is worse still - a movie of that type where the solution to the murder mystery is painfully obvious right from the start. And that’s She-Wolf of London.

And this movie’s problems don’t end there, as we shall see.

Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is an heiress who lives with her aunt and her cousin in London around 1900. Only they’re not really her aunt and her cousin. Aunt Martha (Sara Haden) was her father’s housekeeper. After Phyllis’s parents died Aunt Martha and her daughter Carol (Jan Wiley) continued living in the house although Phyllis still thinks they’re her relatives.

Unfortunately we’re told all this right at the start, an example of extraordinarily clumsy and inept writing, because the only hope of maintaining any suspense would have been to keep this knowledge from the audience.

Phyllis is engaged to Barry Lanfield (Don Porter), a wealthy young professional type. Phyllis is rather hesitant about the marriage though, on account of the Allenby Curse. We’re never told very much about the Allenby Curse except that it apparently involves lycanthropy. As a result Phyllis fears that she may be a werewolf. When she wakes up in the morning with mud caked on her shoes and blood stains and doesn’t remember anything she becomes more convinced she must indeed be a werewolf. In fact she believes she’s responsible for several recent attacks in the nearby park, attacks that were blamed on dogs.

Detective Latham from Scotland Yard has no doubt that a werewolf was responsible, although there’s little evidence to suggest such an outlandish explanation. Barry Lanfield on the other hand is certain that Phyllis could not possibly be a werewolf and he starts investigating the case privately.

I won’t reveal anything further but really the solution to the mystery has already been revealed through some very ham-fisted plotting.

Apart from its other deficiencies She-Wolf of London suffers from some unfortunate casting choices. No audience is ever going to believe for one moment that Phyllis is really a werewolf - she’s much too insipid and too timid. There are other casting problems as well, especially Sara Haden as Aunt Martha, but since I try not to reveal spoilers I won’t say any more about her. Lloyd Corrigan as Detective Latham is essentially comic relief and he’s not too bad. Don Porter is an adequate and reasonably likeable hero.

George Bricker wrote the screenplay and is therefore largely responsible for this movie’s utter failure. The terrible script combined with the badly miscast female lead really gave director Jean Yarbrough nothing to work with. It’s actually a reasonably well-made movie. Production values are quite high for what was very much a B-movie and there are some effectively atmospheric moments. The scenes in the mist-shrouded park are the kinds of wonderfully artificial scenes, obviously done on a sound stage, that I find to be for me are one of the more enjoyable features of the Universal horror movies of this era. It’s a very bad movie, but it’s a good-looking bad movie.

It’s part of Universal’s Wolf Man Legacy DVD set and the transfer is extremely good. There are no extras, Universal possibly feeling that the less said about this one the better!

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