Botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the "Marifasa Lupina", which blooms only in moonlight. Despite warnings that the region is dangerous, Glendon continues his quest until finally locating the exotic flower, but not before he has to defend himself from an attack by a howling monster. Back in London, Glendon is visited by the enigmatic Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), who tells him a current rash of murders is the work of two werewolves. Yogami also claims that the only antidote is the blooming Marifasa flower, which keeps the werewolves from harming the ones they love. Glendon scoffs at Yogami's stories, until the next full moon!
The original Werewolf ...
- Werewolf of London review by NP
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The titular character was originally meant for Boris Karloff, and the shady Yogami character was ear-marked for Bela Lugosi. Whilst these two horror legends would have undoubtedly been tremendous in their respective roles, I find it hard to imagine how the two characters we ended up with could be bettered.
Famous stage actor Henry Hull plays Wilfred Glendon, a stuffy, somewhat neurotic botanist whose relationship with his wife plays a distant second fiddle to his work. The playing of the character skilfully betrays the very real love he has for her with an almost total inability to display it – especially as Glendon now has a secret he must keep from her; his lycanthropy.
Yogami is played in subtle fashion by former Fu Manchu Warner Oland, who was currently very successfully playing detective Charlie Chan in a series of films. His is not a clichéd evil; it is a question of survival. Both characters are werewolves, and both need the very rare mariphasa plant to keep their primal urges at bay.
The interesting thing about this film, viewed in retrospect, is that the full moon has nothing to do with the transformations. That detail was added five years later in the more widely known Lon Chaney Jr film ‘The Wolf Man’, and instantly became part of folklore. Indeed, this werewolf is less bestial than the latter day Larry Talbot’s alter-ego, even stopping to put on a hat and scarf before prowling the streets of the capital.
Often overlooked, I always enjoy watching this. The Universal version of London involves fogbound streets, eccentric alcoholic landladies and bawdy pubs. There are some great, eccentric performances, and some very impressive effects, including the first man-to-wolf transformation seen as Glendon lumbers through the streets behind pillars and streetlights.
Spearheading the idea of the lycanthrope being a tragic, Jekyll-like figure rather than a man of evil has been retained for all Universal Wolf-Man films – the impressive make-up provided by monster guru Jack Pierce.