Saturday, July 05, 2008


“I just couldn’t see Barry again, could I? I’d feel—I’d feel unclean.”

In the mediocre mood-thriller She-Wolf of London (Jean Yarbrough, 1946) the heroine, June Lockhart, believes she is victim of an old family curse—murderous lycanthropy. In one sequence her "aunt" tries to comfort her in the bedchamber after Lockhart concludes she has gone out on another noctural rampage. First she awakens in her bed to see dried blood on her fingertips; she then notices the wetness on the hem of her robe; finally she sees caked mud and dirt on her slippers. Of course it's a blatant signification of menstruation as well as the imposed/reinforced shame of women's biology engendered by our patriarchal culture and our patriarchal cinema. I wonder if, pedagogically, this film could be used as a good example of showing that utterly serious issues can be found in minor films—that "decoding" them neither necessarily justifies a major demolition job on an ideologically illegitimate (or unsavory) artwork, nor does it necessarily underline a supposedly greater complexity or "latency" that ennobles the unassuming artwork. All artworks contain complexity because all artworks are propelled into one's awareness through the discursive borders of human relations.

The film is marked by a premise and set design that John Brahm might have done justice, as he did with a couple of other low-budget Britain-set films I like from the same period (The Lodger with Laird Cregar, The Undying Monster). Somebody—persumably Yarbrough or DP Maury Gertsman—decides to tilt the camera a bit for some "menacing" climactic scenes. But there's no organic or interesting progression to the images and the way the shots come, one after another, the way the themes creep out of each other, grow large through economy of image and totem and audiovisual relations. It's just a bit of cheap technique, and as such the film has the same enjoyable low-key, low-budget charm as most b-movies from the era seem to. But not here the coherence of a Brahm, let alone an Ulmer, who did manage to evoke beyond means (cosmetics) deeper and more complex aesthetic movements.

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