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.
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The Undying Monster (1942)THE UNDYING MONSTER

"Savage! Sinister! 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:The Undying Monster (1942)

"When the stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky lane."

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 The Undying Monsterdirector'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 history.
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 episodes.

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) and Unknown Terror (1958).John Howard in The Undying Monster (1942)

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.

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Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst

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