Google has a straightforward summary of Henry Levin‘s Cry of the Werewolf — “A New Orleans Gypsy queen (Nina Foch) tries to kill a couple (Stephen Crane, Osa Massen) who know she is a werewolf.” In truth, the movie isn’t much more complicated than that, nor is it particularly scary. In fact, the lack of convincing werewolf transition scenes makes this film a bit silly. Then again, this was the 1940s, so one can semi-forgive its lack of dazzling monster effects, or that the werewolf basically looks like a regular wolf.
Where Does ‘Cry of the Werewolf’ Fit in the Werewolf Movie Pantheon?
No doubt Cry of the Werewolf was a response to 1941’s The Wolf Man, one of the most iconic werewolf films of all time. In fact, some of the story elements are similar (other than, you know, having a werewolf). Like The Wolf Man, Cry of the Werewolf focuses a little on mythologized (so-called) “Gypsy” society, with Celeste being a Romani princess. The Wolf Man lacks a princess but features a fortuneteller named Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) who reveals that Lon Chaney Jr.’s character was bit by her son (Bela Lugosi). While that movie’s more scary, there is a charm to Cry of the Werewolf that’s neither easy to pinpoint nor deny.
Perhaps it’s that its chief villainess is somehow classy and refined, somewhat like the dapper Dracula of Lugosi. Even the wolf scenes themselves maintain this refinement, as strange as that sounds. Let’s compare the two movies again. The Wolf Man comes across as a mad dog that needs to be put down. He’s gruesome, jarring, almost appearing drunk in his bloodlust. The werewolf queen in Cry is more mysterious, calculated, contained. She can become a wolf at will whereas Chaney’s character is cursed. Her werewolf is neat, his is sloppy. She is sexy, he’s a lummox. Her werewolf is almost cat-like.
On that note, there aren’t many werewolf movies that successfully convey a werewolf of Nina Foch’s type. That’s probably a reason to check this movie out. Still, the lack of an impressive werewolf transformation prevents this from being an all-time great werewolf film (in my opinion). Cry of the Werewolf is also notable in that it’s the earliest known surviving film depicting a female as a werewolf. Is that a reason to see this? Sure. If you are a true werewolf movie completist, this is definitely something you need to see at least once. It was also the first film of prolific director Henry Levin.
Although Nina Foch isn’t exactly a “scream queen,” she did at least appear in a few other horror/thriller/crime and noir-style movies in her lengthy career. In fact, she even had an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Robert Wise’s Executive Suite. She also taught drama at the American Film Institute and the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A werewolf movie probably isn’t her crowning achievement, but there are worse things one could be known for.
What do you think of Cry of the Werewolf? Let us know in the comments!