Thursday, August 17, 2006

Universal's werewolf movies

I watched the Universal's The Wolf Man Legacy DVD collection during the last week. Last night I watched the latter half of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and pretty much enjoyed myself. (I'm pretty far from the young intellectual I was back in the nineties (or even the late eighties! Christ!). I could send myself a hate letter from the past just like my friend Tosikko did a while back. What happened to Fellini and Bergman? (Must say that seeing Fellini's Satyricon and Casanova some time ago wore me out: why did they have to shout all the time?!))

The original Wolf Man (1941) isn't much though. It's pretty uninspired and too short (it's a rare occasion, when I say that a film is too short), but there are some good scenes and Jack Pierce's wolf make-up is pretty effective. There were also two other films that have nothing to do with the original werewolf movie (the other one of the two was even made earlier), but were fun to watch, though. (There will be a remake.)

The Werewolf of London (1935) was at times a good B movie with some nice touches and atmosphere, but at times it seemed that they didn't know what they were doing. There were some farcical scenes that weren't funny in the least and didn't really fit in with the rest of the material. Warner Oland as Dr. Yogami was delightful; someone could use the character in some sort of a pulp homage. After all, he's an adventurer who's also a werewolf. But I digress. It was clear also that the makers of this film didn't have their facts straight (if you can use the word here): the disease is called "lycanthrofobia", not "lycanthropia", and the werewolf is just shot to death - not with a silver bullet! Goddamit, get your stuff right!

The She-Wolf of London (1946) was the poorest of the bunch, even though Jean Yarbrough had some nice noirish touches here and there, especially near the end. It seems that the film was banned in Finland in 1947! The original screen story was written, by the way, by pulp fiction classic Dwight Babcock. (So, there must be something about the film in David Wilt's excellent book Hardboiled in Hollywood: Five Black Mask Writers and the Movies, from 1991, but I don't remember anymore what exactly and don't have the book at hand to check.)

Now, to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. It's funny that these kind of things are so old - you'd think that stuff like Alien Meets The Silver Surfer were invented in the postmodern nineties, but it ain't so. This one has a very silly title and it has its share of silly moments. There are some lapses in the continuity (one of the crucial characters is seemingly forgotten for at least ten minutes, which in a 74-minute film is a long time) and the relationship between Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man is shakily told, at best. Are they friends or enemies? How do they communicate? Why does the monster show the Wolf Man where his master's diary is kept?

But still this is the best of the bunch. Roy William Neill, adept at little thrillers, such as the Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone, directs with a very noirish touch, camera movements are smooth and the cinematography is all in all very good. Especially the opening scene is eerie. Lon Chaney is in good swing as a hysterical Lawrence Talbot who's awakened from his death sleep. The hystery adds to the noir feel of the film - you see, it's about a man who's doomed from the start. The script, with all its flaws, is by Curt Siodmak, who specialized in bringing noirishness into weird subjects, such as keeping a man's brains alive in a can.

(By the way, you must've figured out I'm not sick anymore!)

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