Friday, July 12, 2019

She-Wolf of London (1946)

Somewhere, I have this horror thriller from the final days of Universal's B-movie unit on DVD.  With their classic monsters pretty much played out, Universal spent the tail end of its B-movie production turning out cheaply made cod horror pictures which utilised existing sets and the studio's roster of supporting players.  Most ran around the hour mark and quite a few, like She-Wolf of London, were directed by Jean Yarbrough, a journeyman director who never gained the cult status of, say, Roy William Neill, but nonetheless turned out efficiently made programmers on limited budgets.  She-Wolf typically, for these type of films, contantly hints at the supernatural (particularly in the title), but is, in fact, a thriller with some horror overtones, rather than a full blown horror picture.

These late period Universal B pictures frequently borrowed heavily from earlier productions.  Not only does She-Wolf take half of its titke from an earlier, more prestigious, Universal production, Werewolf of London, but its plot is somewhat reminiscent of the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes film The Scarlet Claw, (directed, incidentally, by the aforementioned Roy William Neill).  A series of 'werewolf'  murders, in which the victims' throats are torn out, are terrorising late Victorian London.  The killings centre on a park, near which lies the Allenby mansion, where young Phyllis Allenby lives with her aunt and cousin.  Allenby is engaged to solicitor Lansfield, with the spate of killings coinciding with the build up to the wedding.  Allenby fears that she may be culprit, a victim of the 'Allenby Curse' of lycanthropy.  Naturally, the culprit turns out to be the aunt, who is trying to drive Phyllis mad and prevent her marriage in order that she and her daughter would inherit the mansion.  Rather than turn into a 'wolf woman', the aunt uses a gardening implement to murder and mutilate her victims, (as did the killer in the Holmes film).

While featuring a number of atmospheric scenes and considerable suspense, She Wolf of London is ultimately a disappointment, with its non-supernatural denouement leaving the audience feeling cheated after all that build up. Even though the idea of the 'Allenby Curse' seems to borrow from the 1943 Twentieth Century Fox werewolf picture The Undying Monster, unlike that film, She-Wolf doesn't have the decency to provide even a briefly glimpsed werewolf transformation at its climax.  Still, it is a surprisingly handsome looking B-movie, benefiting from the studio production values and standing sets at Universal, (it certainly looks a lot classier than either House of Horrors or The Brute Man, which Yarbrough also directed for Universal around the same time).  It also features several familiar faces: leading lady June Lockhart would go on to be Mrs Robinson in Lost in Space, Dennis Hoey once more gets to play Inspector Lestrade in all but name and amongst the uniformed 'Bobbies' is none other than James Finlayson, one time nemesis of Laurel and Hardy ('Doooh!').  To confuse matters, during the 1990s the title was resurrected for an unconnected HTV and MCA (Universal's then parent company) co-production: the short-lived She-Wolf of London TV series, (which, to confuse matters even further, changed its title to Love and Curses part way through).



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