Although an ignored
werewolf film, The Undying Monster contains much to recommend it with a moody atmosphere
and a cast that does its best with the mediocre script.
Supernatural! The black fury of a werewolf - sacrificing life and love to the maddening
evil that drove him to the most monstrous murders man ever committed!"
(1942/20th Century Fox.) 76mins. BW. US.
Aka: THE HAMMOND MYSTERY (UK).
Credits: Dir: John Brahm; Prod: Byran Foy; Sc: Lillie Hayward & Michael Jacoby;
Ph: Lucien Ballard; Ed: Harry Reynolds; Art: Richard Day & Lewis Creber; Sets: Thomas
Little & Walter M. Scott; Mus: Emil Newman & David Raskin. From the novel by
Jessie Douglas Kerruish.
Cast: John Howard, James Ellison, Heather
Angel, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher,
Eily Malyon, Halliwell Hobbes, Aubrey
Mather, Holmes Herbert.
Produced in response to Universal's successful The
Wolfman of the previous year, THE UNDYING MONSTER is a tale of lycanthropy set
in an isolated mansion on a cliff edge in Cornwall. The film was badly publicised at the
time of its release which contributed to the poor box-office receipts. Nevertheless, the
film is an elegant and highly entertaining tale that owes more to murder mysteries than it
does to conventional werewolf stories.
To set the mood, Walton the butler, (Halliwell
Hobbes), and his wife, the maid, who looks something akin to a reanimated corpse,
narrates the history of Hammond Hall and of the legendary monster that plagues the Hammond
family as stated in an unlikely ancient curse:
"When the stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky
Expecting the arrival of her brother Oliver Hammond, (John Howard), Helga, (Heather
Angel), and Walton experience an eerie baying accompanied by a woman's scream that seems
close by. Upon investigation, they find Oliver close to death and Kate O'Malley, a woman
from the village, fatally beaten from a mysterious attack. Oliver recovers, but his memory
is not at all clear as to what happened that night.
Robert Curtis, (James Ellison), and Miss Cornelia Christopher, (Heather Thatcher), both
forensic scientists for Scotland Yard, are called in to investigate the mysterious events
at Hammond Hall, one of the oldest inhabited mansions in the country. The legend explains
that one of the Hammond ancestors sold his soul to the Devil and still lives in a secret
room at the house, only venturing forth occasionally to take a human life to prolong his
own. Oliver with his aquaintence Dr. Jeff Corbert, (Bramwell Fletcher), inspect the darkest recesses of the house and the
family crypt, while Robert Curtis accuses anyone who acts suspiciously.
After Kate O'Malley's death, an inquest held at the house where each family member tries
their best to implicate the other. The verdict decides that her death was brought about by
person or persons unknown, but Dr. Jeff Cobert seems to know more than he is telling.
Back at Scotland Yard, Curtis, and the obligitory comic-relief character Ms.
Christopher, experiment on a fragment of cloth they found near the scene of the attack,
and discover that a hair on the specimen mysteriously belongs to a wolf. At Hammond
Hall, Curtis sneaks into the room where Kate O'Malley's body lies and extracts a sample of
blood which later reveals to contain cobra venom.
Shortly thereafter a scream is heard and a figure is seen carrying Helga Hammond away.
Several policemen, Curtis and Dr. Cobert give chase and follow the figure to the rocky
shore. As the culprit clambers to the top of the cliff, an alert police force point their
guns at the suspect whose face is revealed to be Oliver Hammond as a lycanthrope. The
creature falls to its death on the rocks below, his face once again changing back to the
human form of Oliver Hammond.
In an epilogue, Dr. Cobert conveniently explains that he knew all along of Oliver's
condition and had hoped to cure his inherited affliction with a cobra venom extract.
Entirely studio-bound, (evidence of this comes in the shadows that actors and trees
cast on the sky!), its craggy cliff-face and gnarled windswept trees are heavily stylised,
expressing the director's influence from the expressionist German
films of the '20's.
Born as Hans Brahm in 1893, John Brahm moved
from his native Germany to Britain in the early '30's and found work as an assistant
director on Scrooge (1935), THE LAST JOURNEY (1935),
and as a director on the remake of D.W. Griffith's BROKEN BLOSSOMS. Griffith
abandoned his own plans for the remake when he became unhappy with both the script and the
star Dolly Haas. After THE UNDYING MONSTER, Brahm went on to direct what many
believe to be his best film, The Lodger starring
Laird Cregar. The same style, atmosphere and psychological undertones are evident in what
is considered one of the most absorbing versions of the "Jack-the-Ripper" case
Brahm also directed Hangover Square (1944), again
starring Laird Cregar and later notched up further credits in the genre with the quickly
made 3-D bonanza The Mad Magician (1954), hoping to cash in on the previous year's
success of The House of Wax that also starred Vincent Price. Fans of television's
The Twilight Zone may also remember Brahm for directing some of the more memorable
On THE UNDYING MONSTER cameraman Lucien Ballard seems to have been given a free
hand as seen by the sweeping shots around Hammond Hall. Ballard had worked with Brahm on
several other non-horror projects and would go on to receive credit for the cinematography
on Sam Peckinpah's most critically acclaimed films.
Unfortunately the same glowing praises cannot be given to UNDYING's
scripwriters, who not content with some trite dialogue, continually use the hackneyed
rhyme "...Beware thy bane on the rocky lane" in poor emulation of Curt
Siodmak's rhyme created for The Wolfman.
Star of the film John Howard, who had also appeared in Frank Capra's breathtaking Lost Horizon (1937) and The Invisible Woman (1940), was quick to point out in an interview
nearly 50 years later: "It started off as a good premise, but just sort of petered
out. I don't think I was cast correctly".
Howard went on to appear in The Mad Doctor (1940)
Also amongst the cast is dear Bramwell Fletcher, ten years after uttering his most
famous lines in Universal's The Mummy (1932) "He
went for a little walk" after seeing Karloff walk out of his sarcophagus. He had
previously appeared in Svengali (1931) and was
the second husband to the tragic Helen Chandler, the heroine in Universal's Dracula (1931)
Generally the cast, including Heather Angel (who also appeared in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN
DROOD and Roger Corman's The
Premature Burial) and Halliwell Hobbes (who also appeared in Mamoulian's definitive
treatment of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) and Dracula's Daughter (1936), perform well, managing
admirably with some of the film's obvious flaws.
In Britain the film was retitled THE HAMMOND MYSTERY, allowing the beloved
censor to snip away at the footage, leaving us with a mutilated print that made no sense
at all. The censor even cut away the shot of Howard as a lycanthrope, which made audiences
wonder why the police shot him in the first place.
Thankfully the original American print is readily available, and remains an equal piece
to Universal's limply directed The Wolfman,
proving to be one of the more prestigious films made in 1942, and certainly one of the
better horror films 20th. Century Fox released during this war torn decade.
To download Free Real Player click here
Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of
Ronald V. Borst
DVD available click here