Wednesday, July 4, 2007

She-Wolf of London (1946)

Director: Jean Yarbrough

Alright, that's it!! I’m tired of this bizarre phenomenon of movies whose titles completely mislead their audiences. “She-Wolf of London” is probably the best (or would it be the worst?) example of a film doing such an unspeakable act. I'll try not to spoil too much, but this film attempts a more psychological approach to the whole werewolf genre of films, all the while staying seemingly hell-bent on keeping anything interesting or exciting completely under wraps -- literally.
It involves a young heiress, named Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart), her cousin, Carol (Jan Wiley), and her bitchy, overbearing aunt, Mrs. Winthrop (Sara Haden), who behaves (and even looks) not unlike Snidly Whiplash. Right away, a truckload of exposition is dumped in our lap: It turns out that Mrs. Winthrop and her daughter, Carol, are not in actuality related to Phyllis. They're just common folk living off of her inheritance, disguised as relatives -- and frankly, Mrs. Winthrop's gotten pretty accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. So, from there on out we know that she has (at least in her mind) the proper motivations to engage in various pseudo-Lycanthropic hijinks, much to the frustration of Phyllis, whose impending marriage threatens to disrupt Mrs. Winthrop's little scam.
Phyllis feels as though she’s been the one turning into the She-Wolf, and terrorizing London by killing innocents in the park. The violent murders pop up the next day in the paper, and Phyllis discovers blood on her hands, and mud on her shoes. Mrs. Winthrop keeps reassuring her that it’s all in her mind, and not the works of "The Allenby Curse,” as Phyllis believes. She tells Phyllis that if she goes to the cops to turn herself in, she'll be committed to an asylum for the rest of her life for thinking she's a werewolf. It's pretty obvious at this point that some sort of head games are going on, and that the thing we want to be happening is merely an illusion. It's sort of like discovering that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist. Phyllis begins to shut herself off from everyone including her fiancé, in an attempt to control the curse and protect those around her. Given that the three main characters are all female, and not to mention their housemaid as well, the film has a promising enough set-up to at least have made an attempt at a few red herrings. Unfortunately, the film wastes this opportunity by using stock characters, and leaving an absurd amount of gaping plot holes in its wake. And let’s not forget the She-Wolf herself. We see her wander around the ridiculously foggy “park”, that looks like someone’s backyard with a few house plants strewn haphazardly. Unfortunately (the word “unfortunately” pops up a lot in this review), the She-Wolf is dressed head-to-toe in what looks sort of like a Muslim burqa. Look closely at her hands (the only part of her we ever see that's not completely covered up) and you may get yet another clue/mistake. On the rare occasions that we do get to see the actual She-Wolf, we only see her fleeting image wandering aimlessly in the background, and drifting in and out of the frame as though she were a crew member who suddenly realized they were on camera.
The main problem (and it's a big one) is that the whole movie is devoid of impending menace or even the vaguest semblance of a driving force to keep it moving along as any self-respecting horror film should have. It's dead on arrival. It’s set in about two locations, and even THEY aren’t visually interesting. Since it takes place in turn of the century London, it looks like the Universal horror rendition of “Pride and Prejudice,” minus the horror. There are several scenes within the mansion itself that dissolve to other scenes of identical locations in the same house. Location number two (the park) was a chance for real set design. Unfortunately (there’s that word again), it’s uninspired and stripped of the stylistic visuals that Universal’s “Wolf Man” used to great effect several years earlier. Lay off with the fog machine, already. It makes it look like they had something to hide. Well, I guess I would've tried to hide that set too, so I guess I can't blame them... too much. Bottom line: It’s not a werewolf film, and it’s not even interesting or engaging. The banal sets and scenes make it hard to enjoy on even a campy, B-movie level. It had a potentially intriguing idea, but unfortunately (that’s the last time, I swear), mangled the story into a barely coherent rough sketch of a plot. I’ve played games of “Clue” that were more interesting and intellectually stimulating: Turns out it was the She-Wolf with the lead pipe in the observatory -- see, it's not that hard. My advice to the She-Wolf: Change your name. It’s only going to further enrage the select few viewers who happen to run across you. Bravo, Jean Yarbrough.

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