Hull-Hound

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We never get a clear look at Warner Oland’s chubby werewolf, and that has to be a good thing.

It’s taken me this long to watch WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and God knows I’ve tried. As a kid I was no doubt eager to see it, but it never seemed to turn up on UK TV. As an adult, I was excited to finally get my hands on the thing, and then found it impossible to sit through.

This time around — third time’s the charm — it didn’t seem THAT bad — despite several strikes against it, it has a number of appealing images and ideas.

First the bad — Henry Hull is written as a completely unsympathetic boor, and that’s just how he plays it, with an added suggestion of indifference and superiority to the material. In the abstract, it’s kind of interesting the way the character perversely contradicts his own motivations — he’s jealous of his wife but either ignores her or drives her a way, he quickly becomes convinced he is indeed infected with “werewolfery” (or worse, “lycanthrophobia”) but rejects offers of help from the man who infected him. In practice, these traits are frustrating and dramatically self-defeating. “It defeats its own purpose,” as Jake LaMotta would say.

Hull lacks the physical presence and skill to make a convincing transformation, and his werewolf performance consists largely of making a face like he’s going to sneeze.

The comedy relief, zesty and startling in a James Whale film, is lumbering and ugly here. Last time I watched, I got as far as the two drunken landladies (one of them, Ethel Griffies, is the ornithologist from THE BIRDS — not that old, she would live another forty years). The film is full of menopausal women, Fiona pointed out, and they’re all played as clowns. Spring Byington (“So romantic, with the Thames lapping at one’s very threshold”) is the main culprit. Worse is the way the so-called hero’s lunar depredations are followed by jocular scenes at Scotland Yard, with the police chortling away together despite the wave of manglings sweeping the metropolis.

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Good stuff — going all the way to Tibet to get bitten by a werewolf is gloriously excessive.

Gratuitous killer plants! An entirely satisfying horror movie about rival botanists could probably be concocted with no need for werewolfery at all. Although, there’s THE WOMANEATER to prove me wrong.

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Warner Oland in a role maybe planned for Lugosi — now he’s a professor from the University of the Carpathians, with a Japanese name. And he’s a LOVELY werewolf, much nicer than H.H.

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Ah-ah-ah…. CHOO!

But I dig the way Hull remains somewhat compos mentis when wolfing about — he actually turns into a werewolf and then PUTS ON A HAT to go out. And he gets a deathbed speech in werewolf form. Though the principles of Lon Chaney wolfman mythos are being laid down here in an early form, the story is still in large part Jekyll & Hyde.

Also — GREAT first transformation, using foreground columns which occlude the frame, in a relay of shots connected by hidden wipes, so that Hull’s makeup (by Universal monster supremo Jack Pierce) can develop in yak-fur increments.

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9 Responses to “Hull-Hound”

  1. Oland was a chronic alcoholic who suddenly disappeared off set during his last Charlie chan movie and flew home to his mother’s house in his native Sweden where he subsequently died. He is terribly unsteady with dialogue in this and manages to mispronounce the marafasa lupina lumina, swapping the last two words. He stumbles and I think breaks frame but carries on. I guess it was the best take. Sad.

  2. Oland was set to shoot a Charlie Chan film and had a strange superstitious turn where he refused to film in the sound stage selected. So they renumbered the stages, and he filmed there but with a new number, and never realised it. But before the filming was quite done he fled the country and died…

  3. Perhaps the most disappointing werewolf movie is “She-Wolf of London”. Set in Victorian England it has the proper Universal B-horror gloss and competent craftsmanship all around. But there’s no werewolf, she- or otherwise.

    It’s as if the whole movie is just vamping until either a monster or Rathbone’s Sherlock appears, and neither ever does. Basically, it’s sweet June Lockhart (beloved TV mom from “Lassie” and “Lost in Space”) being made to think she’s a werewolf.

    SPOILER: She’s not. Nobody is, although there’s eventually a villain revealed.

  4. I was going to mention SWOL and I can’t think how I forgot! Here’s my much earlier piece on it: https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/wolves-of-all-nations/
    Agree with everything you say, basically.

  5. Great minds and all. In retrospect it reminded me of some lesser Hammers and a few others where the monster, the big action scene or the softcore sex isn’t shown until the last half of the last reel.

    Here and there a movie seems to forget. When you saw it at the drive-in or matinee you figure you were Distracted or in the lobby during the good parts. When you watch it on TV you assume the station hacked out the good parts. When you see it on disc you think you dozed off during the good parts and replay. Then you finally know the awful truth: It was a simulation of a movie, utterly convincing in ten-minute chunks but not adding up to a whole.

  6. The Undying Monster has some good atmosphere but shows that saving the monster to the very last minute is a nasty cheat. Better than NO monster, but only a little.

    And the undying monster dies, of course.

    https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2008/06/13/clews/
    https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/undying-my-ass/

  7. With recent viewings of Werewolf of London, I get the feeling that the studio heads at Universal Pictures in the 1930s never really liked the horror movies they produced, or even understood their popularity. Carl Laemmle Jr appears to be the single driving force behind their creation. And why the early pre code horror movies are such classics that stand up to repeated viewings through the decades. The one that is not so good, Murders In The Rue Morgue, is an exception, because Laemmle was not in Hollywood during the final stages of its production. He was on a vacation due to exhaustion. But, by 1935, the Laemmle influence was waning, and these later horror entries suffer from it.

    With the production code under Breen now having a greater influence over the movies at this time, may be Universal is toning it down with these dark subjects? In the same way that Warners was recasting their gangster stars Cagney and Robinson as upstanding G Men, Universal would rather be known for the feel good Deanna Durbin musicals instead of being the monster makers. Werewolf of London, and the next year’s Dracula’s Daughter are more the concept of a mystery thriller, than the successful execution of one. Once 1935’s The Raven caused Britain to hold off on importing any more horror films, the studio heads now had an excuse to just shut the entire, unpleasant genre down.

    Your mention of Lugosi as possibly being in the Orland role, reminds me of how Universal and other studios were treating Lugosi by the mid 1930s. Laemmle Jr had gone against the wishes of the studio heads by producing Dracula with Lugosi in 1931. It became a surprise hit. Saving the studio, and making Lugosi an in demand star, for the time being. So, they followed through with more monster pictures. But, instead of Lugosi’s star rising with these productions, it is the more amenable, and better connected Karloff, whose career benefits. Now, in the mid thirties, the studio is in trouble again, but they want nothing to do with Lugosi. Whose presence in Werewolf of London might have given it a shot in the arm.

    Hull may have put more effort into his role, if he’d had someone like Lugosi to act off of. Certainly, Orland was not in great shape, which may have affected his performance, and possibly the whole atmosphere on the set. It is well documented, that over at Fox, they were very accommodating to Orland’s condition. Key Luke mentions over and over how they would turn a blind eye to Orland’s drinking. And, would try to finish shooting by mid afternoon before he got too intoxicated. But, for Werewolf, he is over at Universal, away from any sort of support group. And, I’m guessing, the studio is expecting him to be a replacement for Lugois, and come through with the sort of broad villanry he’d delivered back in the not so long ago silent days when he was playing Dr Fu Manchu. But, instead, they have someone with many personal problems who may have been disrupting the production. Something Lugosi never did. Look at home movie footage of Lugosi that Ed Wood shot, and inserted into Plan Nine From Outer Space. Here is a man near death, but the actor in him is still delivering a performance.

    Personally, I think if they had cast Lugosi in a revival of Dracula in 1936, the Laemmle’s may have kept control of the studio for a few more years. But, again, with the production code now being strongly enforced, and the banning of such films from one of Hollywood’s few remaining overseas markets, a ban due to a film that featured Lugosi, one can see why they would be reluctant to try. Especially with a genre they don’t much care for in the first place, and were ready to phase out. Later, when they did revive the monster movies, they would not be made by the A production units, but by those doing the westerns and serials.

    Getting back to Werewolf of London, they didn’t want Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill may not have been available. And, Orland had been established in yellow peril roles even before he was Charlie Chan. So, it may have appeared, on paper, as a good choice. Now, if they had only got Basil Rathbone in the lead role?

    One last thing, it is a great shame that Carl Laemmle Jr died before the interest in old monster movies came about in the late 1950s. No one sought him out for an interview, and he never wrote any memoirs. His side of the story would be very enlightening to hear.

  8. I like Oland’s performance best of everyone in this film: the script makes him a more considerate character than Hull, and that;s how he plays it. He may have been struggling with the effects of drink but he was still a magnetic and entertaining actor. His line flubs are as much down to poor quality control by director Stuart Walker as to his own weakness.

    I wouldn’t prefer the movie with Lugosi but I would prefer it without HH. It needed a Barrymore or March.

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