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LiamCasey

"The Curse of the Werewolf" (1961)

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Tonight on METv's Svengoolie is 1961's The Curse of the Werewolf:

 


 

At the risk of being laughed off of this genre forum, I have to admit that I've never seen this movie in its entirety (I have caught the start of it a couple of times over the years but that's about it.). Which is surprising since I've always enjoyed Hammer horror movies (good or bad) and I've always enjoyed Oliver Reed (At a second risk of starting an argument, he is my favorite Athos.). So I have no idea as to why I've gone this long with fully seeing this one.

 

Needless to say, I am hoping nothing comes up today that will cause me to miss this showing tonight.

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I missed it this time, as I'm away from home for the weekend. But I recall liking the film very much. I'm not a big Hammer fan -- I find their remakes of Universal monsters to be really stodgy. But I do like many of their other films, and Curse of the Werewolf is one of them. I remember the early scenes (the guy thrown into prison and the mute maid) pretty well; and that the later scenes with Reed verge on the poignant at times.

 

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Why did it take me so long to see this movie?

 

Lon Chaney as Larry Talbot is the iconic image of the werewolf. And his The Wolf Man (1941) is a classic movie.

 

But, in my opinion after this one viewing, The Curse of the Werewolf is a better movie.

 

What really drives this movie for me is that it had a very definite theme of sex being bad and love being good. And stayed true with it. Which, although an overly simplistic and unrealistic theme, did provide a strong framework for the entire movie. A framework that led to a strong script and to strong performances by cast members in roles (large and small) that, for the most part, had more dimensions than usual.

 

The sex is bad portion of the theme comes into play fairly quickly in this movie. What was the final straw that caused the beggar to be thrown into the dungeon? Because he said "Have a good night" in a manner that alluded to the Marquess's upcoming night of sex. Why was the jailer's daughter thrown into the dungeon? Because she rejected that same Marquess's sexual advances? And what happens when the beggar and the jailer's daughter are together in the same cell? He rapes her and then dies as a result of that rape. And what happens to the Marquess when he repeats his sexual advances? The jailer's daughter kills him. And what ultimately happens to the jailer's daughter as a result of being pregnant as a result of being raped by the beggar? She dies giving birth to Leon.

 

None of this puts sex in a good light.

 

Strangely enough, by this point of the movie there has been four deaths (including the off screen death of the Marquessa) coupled with violence and horror. But horror of the natural kind rather than of the supernatural kind expected from this genre.

 

Needless to say, the sex is bad theme continues. When did Leon first start to experience his lupine alter ego? At the start of his adolescence and, therefore, his sexual awakening (and kudos to the producers of this movie for casting an actor as the young Leon who could visually match up with Oliver Reed as the adult Leon). And what caused his alter ego to return when he was an adult? Nothing more than his sexual arousal at the brothel. Heck, even Leon's friend died because he was in the wrong place (that same brothel) at the wrong time.

 

But this is also the point where the love is good theme commences. Because it is love that keeps Leon's lupine alter ego in check. During his adolescence, it was the love of the man who adopted him and that man's housekeeper. And, for at least one night, it was the love (non-sexual) of his boss's daughter.

 

And the love is good theme even appears in other moments. The relationship (again, non-sexual) between Leon's "father" and the housekeeper. The care that both of them show for the jailer's daughter. The relationship between the hunter and his wife (especially with her defense of him in the bar). Even the mourning shown by the herdsman for his dead dog even after the passing of so many years.

 

What is surprising is that love is not the ultimate redemptive. Although Leon must die in the end as is the norm for this genre and this death is performed by the hand of one who loves him, Leon remains a werewolf even after death. So not even the soul was saved in this one.

 

All in all, a good one from start to finish. And one I could easily recommend even to those who do not care for the horror genre.

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An interesting feature of werewolf movies is that there is sometimes an element of sexuality embedded somewhere in the plot. (Jekyll and Hyde is similar -- a repressed English doctor who becomes dangerously lascivious as Mr. Hyde). Part of the story in a few of the films is that the werewolf kills the thing he loves.

 

My favorite werewolf movie is the first -- Werewolf of London (1935). This extremely literate and well acted/directed film has numerous excellent set pieces: the opening in Tibet; the flower show; the meeting in England between Henry Hull (the lead) and Warner Oland (there is an extremely odd shot as part of that meeting); the party at Aunt Ettie's; the memorable scene with Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury, etc. I find this a much richer film than The Wolf Man, though I do like the latter film (and later Talbot appearances) very much.

 

Something that distinguishes Werewolf of London is of a sexual nature. Dare I mention it -- it's a gay subtext. The werewolf (Wilfred Glendon, played by Henry Hull) is not interested in his wife. (Valerie Hobson is as ignored here by her husband as she is by her husband in Bride of Frankenstein.) He has a strange relationship with Dr. Yogami, who bit him in Tibet. 

 

I need to see this film again, but it is definitely one of the more interesting in the genre.

 

13-oland-hull.jpg

 

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Hull in Werewolf of London is the cat's meow. Puts the bang in the bite. Oliver Reed having no cartilage in his nose, looked great as a werewolf. Hammer rules.

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I'm with both of you with respect to WereWolf of London (1935). It is definitely a top tier werewolf movie.

 

I think Swithin's reference to WereWolf of London as literate is spot on. And that may be the reason why WereWolf of London is usually ignored in favor of The Wolf Man (1941). I think that most fans of the horror genre usually become fans of that genre as children (including me) and The Wolf Man is closer to meeting the expectations of children than does WereWolf of London. The latter move is one that definitely needs to be rewatched as an adult in order for one to truly appreciate how fine a movie it is.

 

WereWolf of London also gets knocked for not having Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the lead roles. As if that is a guarantee of a horror movie being a classic! And what is wrong with Henry Hull and Warner Oland?

 

The role of Dr. Glendon is a staid English scientist who is so obsessed with his work that he ignores his wife. But still loves that wife. And is horrified as to what has happened to him and that it may lead to him murdering his wife. Henry Hull is able to play that role and play it well.

 

And Warner Oland, as much as I enjoy his Charlie Chan movies, is always interesting to see in something else. And that includes this one where he is equally horrified by what he is but is doing the best he can with his circumstances.

 

And another plus is that WereWolf of London has obviously developed with the recent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) in mind since Dr. Glendon is a scientist whose own research brought his troubles upon him which probably adds to his misery. And also because Dr. Glendon's alter ego is not just an unthinking monster like Larry Talbot's alter ego, but is a thinking creature who can not control his need to kill. All in all, there is a lot more story potential in a monster which thinks that in one which doesn't.

 

And now for the big "what the?" of WereWolf of London. Universal's casting of a 17-year old Valerie Hobson as the love interest for a 44-year old Henry Hull and a 34-year old Lester Matthews. And, again, for a 35-year old Colin Clive in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Sounds like a bit of sexual fantasizing by aging males.

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