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Wolf Blood

Year: 1925
Production Co: Ryan Brothers Production
Director: George Chesebro
Producer: Bennett Cohen/Cliff Hill
Writer: George Cheesebro, Marguerite Clayton, Ray Hanford

This is claimed to be the first werewolf movie ever made, but it doesn't have any werewolves in it (if you want to split hairs, some film scholarship will tell you the first one is actually a 1913 film called The Werewolf, but that's apparently lost).

What it does have is very interesting plot mechanics that show what a difference a century of filmmaking art and technique has made. Audiences in 1925 were doubtless amazed just to see people moving and talking on screens, with no studio executives or focus groups to demand why it takes half an hour to get to the point of the story.

Director George Chesebro went on to a career as an actor and director, starring in literally hundreds of Westerns, proving how much faster movies were made in those days, until his death in 1959.

He plays incoming lumber company boss Dick, deep in the Canadian wilderness and with a rival company located upriver who'll stop at nothing to put him out of business, including sending a sniper into the forest to take Dick's men out of action.

With things turning increasingly bloody, New York society girl and inherited owner of the company, Edith (Marguerite Clayton) travels to the camp with her fiance, Dr Horton (Ray Hanford) to inspect the place and figure out what's going on. Dick can't take his eyes off the winsome Edith but remains a gentleman because she's betrothed to someone else.

But during the latest skirmish, when Dick goes to confront the rival's men himself, a fight breaks out that leaves him badly injured. A local hobo who lives in the woods brings Dick to Dr Horton, who tells the guy a blood transfusion is needed urgently.

With no human donors around the hobo guy – who often runs with the local wolf packs – brings the female of the pack, and with no other choice, Horton uses her blood to revive Dick. But when he recovers a change has come over him. He dreams of running with the wolves and bringing down prey. He can barely control his bloodlust, one that translates into an increasing attraction to Edith (and her to him).

There are no scenes of lycanthropism, wolf attacks or bloodshed – the action around the possibility of Dick being a werewolf is recounted in discussions after the fact, all of which contributes to a general consensus among those who've seen it that this isn't actually a horror film but a western-style frontier romance.

But if you're honestly watching a movie form the 1920s for the story you're doing it wrong, because appreciating the film conventions of the day are much more interesting. In each case, when a character first speaks, their dialogue card includes the name of the actor. With only locked off medium or long shots, the performances are very theatrical, all projected right to the back of the room. Some of the dialogue is the same ("Man or beast - - I love you!").

Some of the title cards are stills from scholarly books discussing the science and effects of transfusing animal blood into humans, and some of them are so racist they're even spelled that way, like when the mountain man tells the doctor 'Me geeve blood to save heem?'.

I was also unsure if it was some process that digitised the film at some point in the past or it was an artistic choice, but the stock goes from having different duotone shades between scenes. Sometimes they're warm yellow, sometimes cool blue and sometimes a flat, uninteresting white.

I wondered if it was just that film stock went through some grading process depending on the chemicals used during exposure and production in those days bought the stock or emulsions they could afford regardless of their colour.

Also, the guy playing Dr Horton looks so much like Geoffrey Rush it's like those photos you see online 'proving' Keanu Reeves has gone back in time.

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