ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Rochester is a librarian. Mad about movies and books and film soundtracks. His favorite film is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. He recently reviewed Death Played the Flute for us.
Made by Columbia Pictures on a low, wartime budget, Cry of the Werewolf (1944), also known as Daughter of the Werewolf, is a notch or two down in quality and entertainment from the fabulous Universal horror films of the 30’s and 40’s. For one thing, there is the cast – there are no A-listers or even B-listers here. Top billed, as the Gypsy Princess and werewolf, is Nina Foch, the Dutch-born actress who went on to have a distinguished career in Hollywood, starring in An American in Paris (1951) and getting an Oscar nomination for Executive Suite (1954). But Cry of the Werewolf was only her second movie and her unpolished performance here is both unconvincing and uneven. Extremely stiff in his debut movie (the first of, thankfully, just three movies he made) is Stephen Crane, as Professor Morris, son of the eminent Dr Morris who is killed at the start of the movie by the werewolf Princess after he discovers her secret. Equally as poor as Crane is Danish actress Osa Massen as the ‘love interest’ – however, with her ‘foreign’ accent and long curly locks, her Simone Simon look ties in nicely with the other obvious influences of Cat People (1942) on this movie, most notably in its use of shadows. Sturdier performances come further down the pecking order, in particular from Barton MacLane, who as the bullish police chief, provides some of the movie’s better moments with his (often comical) investigation of the series of weremurders.
Unfortunately, as a murder mystery, or whodunit, this film flunks badly. Right from the first ten minutes we know who the werewolf is….the film gives it all away. The film is also very low on atmosphere and excitement. One of the few really good moments comes midway through the film when the Professor is stalked by the werewolf in the records room of a mortuary – effective use of lighting and stock music creating a memorable, shadowy scene only matched by the last five minutes of the film when the police and then the Professor are attacked by the werewolf.
Fans of horror movies will probably be most disappointed by the ‘transformation’ sequences of this movie. Werewolf films are, in some ways, measured by the scenes in which the human turns into a wolf or back again, and the wonderful make-up that transforms an actor into a werewolf. Jack Pierce famously did the brilliant wolfman makeup in The Wolf Man (1941) and the underrated Werewolf of London (1935) – and it is a shame that someone with his talent could not have worked on Cry of the Werewolf, because the result would have been totally different. Instead, probably for budgetary reasons, as a substitute for a transformation, we just get to see Foch’s shadow replaced by that of a wolf shadow, and, instead of seeing a hairy, snarling half-woman half-wolf, we get, as our werewolf, an actual wolf that looks suspiciously like an Alsatian dog.
Although it is hard not to be disappointed with Cry of the Werewolf, if you are a fan of old horror movies and go into it not expecting too much you will probably not be too miffed – and it is only an hour long.
Points of interest – 1. During the opening credits we see a wolf snarling and chewing at something – maybe a bone? No. If you look closer, you can see an elastic band around its jaws, put there to make it look fiercer. 2. Actor Stephen Crane infamously married actress Lana Turner twice – in 1942, and then again in 1943 after the first marriage had to be annulled due to Crane’s bigamy. 3. Although female werewolves are fairly commonplace in movies nowadays, Foch was one of the first female werewolves on screen, with the honour of the first going to Phyllis Gordon in first-ever werewolf movie, The Werewolf (1913).
You can watch this on YouTube.