That's more like it! Oi, The Beast Must Die. This is what a werewolf whodunnit should be like.
I've seen quite a few people say weird things about this one, criticising it for not being the film they have in their heads. Admittedly I've done that myself from time to time, but I find it bizarre here since She-Wolf of London is so good at what it does. Me, I loved the fact that it's a bit different. I went in expecting no more than a gender-switched retread of the Hull/Chaney formula, so was pleasantly surprised when the film gently went about confounding expectations.
Personally I'd recommend seeing this film blind. Don't go looking for spoilers, but just put it on and see what happens. As with all whodunnits, you're missing the point if you start by reading the last page to see how it turns out.
This is your last chance to stop reading. It's a good film. Go watch it.
For those who are still here, I'll try to avoid spoilers, but obviously I'll have to discuss the story at least a little.
We start with the police investigating mysterious night-time attacks and the newspapers talking about werewolves. Meanwhile a young lady (June Lockhart) and her fiance (Don Porter) are planning their wedding and enjoying some horseriding, but Lockhart's jumpy about any reference to the attacks and the dogs at home won't stop barking at her. What's more, her character's name is Phyllis Allenby and the first thing we learned in the film was that it's London at the turn of the century and that the Allenby Curse has been almost forgotten. This is classic Universal stuff. "Aha," I thought. I assumed I could see where this was going, but in fact it's not quite that simple.
It takes the film a surprisingly long time to tip its hand, though. For a long time I was merely waiting for the monster transformation shot and for Lockhart to eat her co-stars. After a while I noticed that the film was taking a surprisingly long time to get to the money shots, but I assumed that it was doing that annoying horror movie thing of tweaking our toes about the heroine possibly having been going mad and imagining it all. That never works. Of course the monster's real, you fool! Stop whining and get on with it! See the Buffy episode where she gets locked up in a loony bin, for instance. I blame Henry James.
Here though it eventually dawned on me that the film wasn't kidding around. I'd been taking quite a lot for granted, simply on the basis that I was watching a 1946 black-and-white Universal film called She-Wolf of London. Lockhart's living in a house of four women, the other three being an old Scottish servant (Eily Malyon), a tough middle-aged housekeeper (Sara Haden) and the housekeeper's daughter (Jan Wiley). One could reasonably be suspicious of any of those and the film does a surprisingly good job of providing reasons for you to switch your allegiance from one to another. It's the classic whodunnit trick. What's more, they manage to pull this off despite showing you the killer's face! It's only in fleeting long shot and there's just about room for deniability, but I think the film even expected me to have identified her. I should point out though that two characters get glimpsed in this way, so I haven't given away as much as you might think I have.
Eventually the film gets you playing detective. Don Porter starts making accusations and you're analysing his logic and spotting the possibility he's overlooked. In the end I was right about the killer's identity, but wrong about everything else. I love that. The film made me think, gave me plenty of rope and then fooled me... all without cheating. They play fair. The clues are in plain sight.
Being 1946, it's clearly one of Universal's shorter, cheaper films. It's only 61 minutes long, but it fills its time well. Similarly it looks lovely, but that's because most of it was shot on Universal's old "Hacienda" set, used on many of their B-westerns. In an exterior scene you might find yourself once or twice noticing the back projection.
As for the cast, there's no one here you'd call a star. The biggest name is probably June Lockhart, who a Tony Award on Broadway in 1948 for Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer and went on to take famous TV roles in Lassie and Lost in Space. Of things I've seen personally, she's in the 1998 Lost in Space movie (spit) and an episode of Babylon 5: The Quality of Mercy (Season 1, Episode 21). She's Laura Rosen, the doctor in downbelow with an alien healing machine that drains its user's life force. Here she's likeable, but suffers from an underpitching problem that afflicts quite a few of the cast. I didn't believe for a moment that she'd been going to get married in a week's time, while Don Porter makes himself ridiculous in his scene of being booted out of the house without being allowed to see his fiancee. You'd think he'd merely been asking to fetch his gloves from the bathroom.
Other recognisable faces include Dennis Hoey. He's playing a police inspector yet again but this time not simply retreading his Inspector Lestrade, as opposed to what he did in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. He's weightier this time, with more authority. Martin Kosleck shows up from The Mummy's Curse (1944), while Eily Malyon was that scary Mrs Barryman (sic) in the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles and had an uncredited role in Dracula's Daughter.
I liked the cast. This is strange since they're not very good, but they're charming and serve the story well. Sara Haden in particular impressed me as the housekeeper, a stony-faced killjoy who'd ban her daughter from even seeing a man simply because he's poor (and, we later learn, foreign), yet she also manages to be sympathetic and even likeable. Jan Wiley and Don Porter aren't even trying to hide their American accents, though.
I admire the script, but not the introductory horseriding scene. It's corny, with expositionary dialogue and an eye-roller of a punchline. "I'm glad I didn't win." Furthermore it's based on the idea that Lockhart and Porter might decide on a whim to get married next week instead of in December. Wow. Give me the name of their wedding planner!
Apparently there's an unrelated American TV series from 1990-91 of the same title. Oh, and what is it with London? Werewolf in London, She-Wolf in London, American Werewolf in London... are they attending a convention or something?
This isn't a big, serious film, but I really liked it. You'll squash it if you go in with too many expectations, but I found it to be a charming piece that plays much better today than a good many of its contemporaries. There's no reason why it shouldn't have turned out as stupidly as a Mummy sequel or one of the lesser Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmeses. However as it happens, it's rather elegant.