Seventy years ago this month, Columbia Pictures attempted to hop on the werewolf bandwagon with 1944’s Cry of the Werewolf while also throwing in a dash of Cat People (a recent hit for RKO) for good measure. Set in New Orleans — just like Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake — the film takes place in and around a museum dedicated to the paranormal which becomes a crime scene when an aged researcher (played by author Fritz Leiber) is killed to prevent him from revealing the secret resting place of a legendary werewolf. (I guess it’s not enough that the museum has taken over the house where she once lived.) The police have a number of suspects, but we know right from the start that it’s the handiwork of gypsy princess Nina Foch, the daughter of the werewolf in question and high priestess of her tribe, which has some unusual burial practices to say the least.
Foch is the star of the film, but we end up spending a great deal more time with Leiber’s son, a scientist played by block of wood Stephen Crane, who attempts to reconstruct his father’s notes with the help of his assistant, the heavily accented Osa Massen, whose Transylvanian heritage makes her gruff police lieutenant Barton MacLane’s prime suspect. When fingerprint evidence clears her, MacLane moves on to limping janitor Ivan Triesault (who’s also from the old country), conveniently forgetting that Leiber was the victim of a savage animal attack. (Where else but a werewolf movie would one see a newspaper headline like “Jury Probes Wolf Slaying Mystery”?) Then again, he does keep idiotic detective Robert Williams around, but I suspect that’s mostly so he can look intelligent in comparison.
Meanwhile, Crane conducts his own investigation, paying close attention to the customs of Foch’s tribe, which keeps its dead on ice eleven months out of the year before burying them in a secret gypsy burial ground. (Yes, it’s that kind of a movie.) Eventually this brings him face to muzzle with Foch in her lupine form, which director Henry Levin chooses to depict by bringing in an actual wolf and having it run around the set. Not exactly the most threatening creature around, but apparently it was cheaper than the alternative.
Incidentally, Cry of the Werewolf doesn’t appear to have been released on DVD (and likely never will be at this point), but used VHS copies can be found on Amazon, and it pops up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time if you’re patient enough. And if you’re impatient, it can also be found in its entirety on YouTube.
Up Next: A British film from the ’80s that poses the question: Are werewolves good company?