Jean Yarborough, 1946
Starring: June Lockhart, Don Porter
Though other reviewers have mostly rained hatred down upon She-Wolf of London, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the film. The main problem is its title. This is not a werewolf film and it’s better if you completely ignore She-Wolf of London and think of it under its British title, Curse of the Allenbys. This is a murder mystery where the red herring is an age old family curse that allegedly transforms the members of the Allenby family into satan-worshipping werewolves.
The young Phyllis is a week away from being married when bodies are found with their throats ripped out in the park near her home. She is particularly worried because there are no men in the house and she only lives with her aunt Martha, cousin Carol, and an elderly servant. Her aunt Martha buys a number of dogs that howl all night, scare Phyllis, and keep her awake. Soon it seems she has been sleep walking, as her shoes and nightgown are muddy and later, to her horror, she wakes up with blood on her hands. Since childhood, she has been dreaming about werewolves and witches’ gatherings and fears that she has finally succumbed to the family curse. Her fiancé Barry and her cousin are worried about Phyllis and begin an investigation of her own, while her aunt takes particular care to let Phyllis rest.
Though this is by no means a true horror film and lacks make up, monsters, or gore, there are some sinister elements. To hear Phyllis talk about her disturbing, reoccurring dreams of lycanthropic transformation helps transcend her whiny, passive character a bit. Though we don’t see the murders in the park, one victim is described as being a young child, and another is surprisingly the inspector who suspects a werewolf is to blame. To have the plucky comic relief (the other detectives and cops mostly make fun of him for being drunk and believing in werewolves) drop dead with a torn out throat is a little surprising. What is with the constant alcoholic humor in Universal movies?
Like a lot of other murder mysteries and horror films from the period, the plot strains credulity at times and doesn’t work too hard to make a lot of sense or explain plot holes. How did Phyllis’s parents die when she was a child? Who told her about the Allenby curse? By the end of the film, you can make an educated guess about these things, but it would help to have a little more back story. Also, why does a police detective take it upon himself to immediately decide a werewolf is to blame? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but if you can ignore some of this and enjoy murder mysteries, She-Wolf of London is a pleasant way to pass an hour and has some particularly lovely visuals reminiscent of The Wolf Man's haunting, otherworldly forest scenes.
The performances are average, though solid and it is easy to see how far the cast could have gone with a stronger script. June Lockhart (Lassie) is far too timid and paranoid to be really interesting in the main role and she is overshadowed by both Sara Haden as the somewhat sinister aunt Martha and the confident, attractive Jan Wiley as cousin Carol. The somewhat roguish Don Porter is more likable than the average male lead and is frankly leagues beyond the bland David Manners, Universal’s standard leading man for Dracula and a few of their other horror films.
While certainly not a perfect film, She-Wolf of London has an undeservedly poor reputation due to its wildly inaccurate title and its inclusion in The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection box set, where it clearly does not belong. If you like quickly paced murder mysteries with a minimal amount of chills (along the lines of The Cat and the Canary or The Bat but with less humor) than this will be right up your alley. This also has no relationship whatsoever to the ‘90s TV show She-Wolf of London, which actually has a werewolf in it.