Thursday, June 4, 2015

Is There Really a She-Wolf of London?

Is June Lockhart a werewolf?
Made at the end of Universal's horror film cycle (1931-1948), She-Wolf  of London is a game attempt to try something different. It has inexplicably generated lukewarm interest over the years. Even the authors of the highly-regarded reference book Universal Horrors dismiss it as "the type of thriller horror fans love to hate." Well, this horror fan rather enjoyed it, even though She-Wolf clearly lacks the Lewton-like psychological complexity and chilling set pieces required of a genuine horror classic.

Set at the turn of the century, She-Wolf  of London stars June Lockhart as Phyllis Allenby, an heiress about to marry a prominent barrister (Don Porter). This news prompts Phyllis's "Aunt" Martha (Sara Haden), who resides at the Allenby estate, to make a startling revelation to her daughter Carol (Jan Wiley). Martha is not Phyllis's aunt, but rather a housekeeper who became the girl's de facto guardian when Phyllis's parents died. Thus, Martha has become concerned about her and Carol's future after the nuptials.

A cloaked figure leaves the mansion.
Meanwhile, a series of murders have taken place at the London park near the Allenby house--with the newspapers suggesting the bloodthirsty killer is a werewolf. It's no wonder that Phyllis turns into a wreck after discovering dried blood on her hands and mud on her shoes the morning following a child's murder. It doesn't help there's a legend about the Allenby family being cursed by wolves (an interesting plot point that deserves more than a fleeting mention).

The central premise is a good one: Are the murders being committed by a werewolf or someone that just wants it to look that way? Twentieth Century-Fox explored the same premise--with better results--in the moody, underrated The Undying Monster (1942). It's superior to She-Wolf, but Universal's effort still holds interest for its 61-minute running time.

Sara Haden as "Aunt" Martha.
Much of the credit goes to Sara Haden and Jan Wiley, who kept me guessing as to which one was the culprit. (I'm not giving anything away here...we see a female cloaked figure in the woods when the murders take place.) I couldn't decide if Aunt Martha was trying to drive Phyllis crazy or protecting her daughter who was either a maniac killer or actually a werewolf.

The supporting cast includes Dennis Hoey as a Scotland Yard inspector, though one that's smarter than the Inspector Lestrade he portrayed in Universal's Sherlock Holmes series. As for Ms. Lockhart, she comes across as a timid lead, lacking much of the warmth she displayed in her later maternal roles on television (e.g., LassieLost in Space).

Director Jean Yarbrough uses Universal's "hacienda set" (originally built for the studio's Westerns) to substitute nicely for the Allenby mansion. Some outdoor footage makes the production look more expensive, though the California scenery can't pass for a London park. Yarbrough employs some cant shots (i.e., a tilted camera) to make the climax more disturbing (which always reminds me of the Expressionistic photography in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).

As pointed out in several sources, Edgar G. Ulmer's Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) is basically a remake of She-Wolf of London. If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then She-Wolf of London must have other admirers in addition to me.


  1. Speaking of flattery by way of imitation, a bit of it is apparent in "She-Wolf of London," too. A scene with a sinister glass of milk near the conclusion was obviously inspired by a similar one in Hitchcock's "Suspicion."

  2. I also enjoyed "She-Wolf of London" because we were presented with three female suspects for the murders and a fascinating back story as well as an interesting setting and black and white photography. I also noted the glass of milk that Gary referenced. Basically if one is offered milk or orange juice before bed, the latter from "The House on Telegraph Hill", it is wise to refuse them. Great writeup of a much lesser known film, Rick!

  3. I'm quite fond of this female-centric film. Sometimes a really good try is as good as grabbing the brass ring.

  4. The first ( and only ) time my sister and I watched She-Wolf of London was six years ago and she thought the film was very bland....I rather enjoyed it however. We haven't watched it since then, but I'm game for giving it another go!

  5. I thought I had seen all of the classic scary movies, but I never saw this one. June Lockhart -- she will always be associated with Lassie to me, and she is the last person I would ever think of in a werewolf movie!