Before I begin, a confession: I like finding hidden subtext in movies. I keep an eye out for it and am thrilled when it’s there. But even I wasn’t prepared for the coded messages in Werewolf of London (1935) to up and smack me in the face. Want to see classic Production Code-era semiotic displacement at work? This fun little werewolf movie has a prime example.
To set the scene: Workaholic botanist Wilfred Glendon recently went on a sample-gathering expedition in Tibet. While plucking a mystical, moon-powered flower, he was attacked by a werewolf, who scratched up his arm. Now in England again, he obsesses over the flower in his laboratory, but his wife drags him upstairs to attend a cozily aristocratic soirée. There, he meets the eccentric Dr. Yogami (played by yellowface veteran Warner Oland) and their instant rapport spurs Glendon to ask, “Have I met you before, sir?” Yogami coyly replies,
In Tibet, once, but only for a moment… in the dark.
Was this a werewolf attack or a hook-up? This isn’t the film’s only queer hint, either. Consider the following: Glendon’s “werewolfery” drives him away from his wife, who finds solace in the arms of another man; in desperation, he gets a very private apartment in a scummy part of town, where a drunken hag observes that “he seems to have a secret sorrow.” Remind me again, is this Werewolf of London or Far from Heaven?
Even in 1935, the monster-as-sexual-metaphor was nothing new. Hell, you could easily interpret the opening act of Dracula ’31 in this exact same fashion; just look at how Bela lusts after Renfield and his tasty blood. Werewolf of London’s great surprise lies in how obvious the metaphor is. This isn’t just the first Hollywood werewolf movie—it’s also the first gay Hollywood werewolf movie.