The Werewolf of London

By Randall D. Larson
Originally published in CinemaScore #13/14, 1985
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher, Randall D. Larson

The Werewolf of LondonThe 1930’s were the great training ground for film music. Although music for motion pictures actually had its roots in the scores written or recorded to accompany silent movies, film music faced its greatest challenges and developments in the 30’s, as producers struggled to determine the proper place for musical accompaniment. The decade gave us such ground-breaking scores as Max Steiner’s KING KONG which perhaps more dramatically than any other demonstrated the sheer energy and pathos that music was able to provide for a motion picture. Franz Waxman’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN score demonstrated, as did Steiner’s KONG, the interplay of the leitmotif to suggest the interplay of characterizations and emotional subtleties. In England, Sir Arthur Bliss’ THINGS TO COME proved monumental in the development of British film music, as did Sergei Prokofiev in Russia, Maurice Jaubert and Arthur Honegger in France, and many others.

Universal Pictures, since the silent era of the 20’s, has established itself as a major producer of films both large and small, and as such even their most hurried productions would have a lasting impact on the development of the motion picture industry. This was particularly true among the horror and science fiction pictures of the 1930’s, most of which are remembered, popularly, far more readily than the now-obscure non-genre films of the period. Structured as a motion picture factory, Universal’s music department was similarly maintained, utilizing the talents of a team of composers working under a music supervisor who oversaw the operation’s effectiveness and kept matters within time and budget limitations.

Unusually enough, by 1931 Universal had dismissed most of the musical staff it had acquired during the 20’s relying solely on Gilbert Kurland, the head of their sound department, to recruit composers on an individual per-film basis [1]. David Broekman and Heinz Roemheld had been music supervisors during the 20’s, and both of these men were recruited by Kurland and made significant contributions to the studio’s film music; Broekman as a conductor (the main title for 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN, while credited to him, was in fact composed by Bernhard Kaun and only conducted by Broekman) and Roemheld, in particular, as composer of much of Universal’s finest film music of the period.

In these early pioneering days of both the horror film and its music, several other composers had important roles to play, most of whom remain unrecognized among film music historians. It was also Universal’s practice to re-use the music composed for one film in many other pictures afterwards, and often these composers received no credit on the films in which their music is heard. In addition to Roemheld, James Dietrich composed an excellent score for 1932’s THE MUMMY, the first film in Universal’s horror cycle to contain a significant amount of underscoring; Clifford Vaughan effectively scored THE RAVEN (1935), and Karl Hajos wrote a particularly strong score for THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935), a moody and evocative horror film directed by Stuart Walker, which tells of the misfortune of a botanist, Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), who becomes a werewolf.

The Werewolf of LondonKarl Hajos (pronounced HAI-yose) was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1889 and was educated there in its Academy of Music. He studied piano with Emil Sauer and claimed to have studied composition and orchestration with Richard Strauss. Hajos began his association with motion pictures in 1928 as a staff composer for Paramount, a post he held until 1934, after which he free-lanced. During the 40’s he worked extensively for Producers Releasing Corporation. He was also the composer of several operettas in the U.S. and Europe, and numerous other instrumental works and songs. Hajos died in Hollywood in 1950.

There are about 15 minutes of original music composed by Hajos for THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, not a great deal by today’s standards but, considering that many of the films of the early 30’s contained little or no music except for a main and end title overture, this was a significant amount. The score was supplemented by thirteen or so minutes of library music tracked from Heinz Roemheld’s scores for the previous two Universal horror pictures, THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BLACK CAT. Hajos composed a straightforward and compelling score for the picture; both his work, and the stock material, provided a rich musical backdrop for this classic werewolf movie.

The film is thick with music, containing a number of lengthy musical cues built around two primary themes. The first and most dominant is the werewolf theme, comprised of three strong brass notes echoed by four alternate notes, which is balanced by a wistful, descending minor-keyed melody which seems to be associated with the exotic mariphasa flower, the blossoms of which offer a cure for Dr. Glendon’s lycanthropy as well as indirectly instigating it.

As William H. Rosar points out in his essay on Universal horror music of the 30’s, the seven-note werewolf theme is “typically heard played agitato in a completely whole-tone harmonization of augmented triads, once again harking back to the old tradition in theater music of whole-tone being associated with supernatural characters.” [p.405].

The main title introduces the werewolf theme in a loud brass-and-string overture emerging from mysterious cymbal-and-string swirls, which alternates with the mariphasa theme. A moody motif for strings and woodwinds is heard in the opening scenes, as Glendon climbs the Tibetan mountain and is attacked by the werewolf. The music for the attack itself is tracked from the finale of THE INVISIBLE MAN, a very good cue by Roemheld which musically reflected the atmosphere of falling snow and the stark panic of the villain whose invisibility is betrayed by the blizzard. As a straight dramatic action cue, it works well in WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

Wounded, Glendon reaches out and clutches the rare mariphasa, and the music then carries us into a visual segue to Glendon in his London laboratory tending the flower he has brought back from Tibet. The music here is a variation of the mariphasa theme, which returns as Glendon meets Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) who discusses the flower’s rare cure for lycanthropy. The werewolf theme emerges subtly as Yogami reveals that, having been bitten by the creature in Tibet, Glendon is now a werewolf.

Hajos provides a number of variations on the werewolf theme to underscore Glendon’s reaction to his increasing metamorphosis. The motif is heard fully Glendon watches his hand sprout hair, realizing with horror the truth of Yogami’s revelation, alternating with the mariphasa theme as he transforms into the snarling beast. An elegiac version of the werewolf theme, for tender strings, is heard as Glendon reads of lycanthropy in an old book; and later it becomes a mournful dirge when Yogami, himself a werewolf, reads of Glendon’s first murder in a morning newspaper.

The two themes, werewolf and mariphasa, are combined throughout the development of the film, resolving only upon Glendon’s death, wherein the werewolf theme is heard as a funeral march, transforming into a swelling, majestic finale with obvious inspirational overtones as the dying Glendon likewise reassumes the appearance of normalcy. (Rosar points out that the finale, “with its syncopated trumpet figure and organ part, sounds as if it might have been inspired by Respighi’s Pines of Rome.” [p.405] .)

The Werewolf of London

The use of the melodic minor scale in the mariphasa theme is reminiscent, as Rosar indicates, of the melodic style of Miklos Rozsa, perhaps due to Hajos’ and Rozsa’s common Hungarian heritage. “This theme is harmonized with a progression of impressionistic minor added-sixth triads which imparts a dreamy, far-away mood…This theme and progression are nearly identical to part of Roemheld’s INVISIBLE MAN main title, which also uses progressions of minor added-sixth triads.” [p. 405-406]. Similarly, the werewolf theme resembles to some extent the finale music from THE INVISIBLE MAN, and both themes, according to Rosar, resemble the progressions in Debussy’s works. “One can only speculate,” Rosar writes, “as to whether Hajos was deliberately imitating–or was asked to imitate–Roemheld’s score or whether Hajos and Roemheld were mutually influenced by a common source (i.e., Debussy). Whatever the case may have been, the use of identical or similar musical devices, in addition to the practice of tracking, undoubtedly contributed to a certain stylistic homogeneity in the scores to these films.” [p. 406]

Other motifs in the score include a long, impending cue (tracked material from THE BLACK CAT) as Glendon, sitting alone in his study, is hissed at by a cat, and then runs through the house turning into a werewolf; a pretty interlude heard when Glendon’s wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson), is favored by a former beau, Paul Ames (Lester Matthews), who soon thereafter becomes a victim of Glendon’s lycanthropy; and a tender, meditative ballad for solo cello as Glendon prays for solace in his rented room just before another transformation. Another piece of tracked material, heard when Glendon fights with Yogami at the film’s climax, is an agitated excerpt from Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, originally arranged by Roemheld for the fight and torture scene in THE BLACK CAT.

It is interesting to note, as does Rosar, that many of the key action scenes in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (the first attack in Tibet, the initial transformation of Glendon, the climactic fight with Yogami) are scored with track. One exception is Glendon’s attack on Paul Ames, for which Hajos scored an original agitato. As Rosar points out, it is possible that this was purely a budgetary consideration: It may have been “intended from the start that original music would be composed for certain scenes while other sequences would be tracked–a practice sometimes employed in film scoring. Knowing Universal’s budget-mindedness, perhaps there was only enough money allocated for some original music, with the intention of scoring the rest of the film with track.” [p.406]

The pair of themes that dominate THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON effectively convey the dual nature of Glendon’s lycanthropy, representing not only the two sides of his nature–calm, rational man one moment (the wistful mariphasa theme) and savage, howling werewolf the next (the agitato werewolf theme), but it also emphasizes, in the interplay between the two motifs, those occasionally shared characteristics as well.

Hajos’ music, with its thematic interrelation and agitato rhythms, was effective both dramatically and symbolically in THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and also had an effect on film music that was to follow. His approach was echoed in many subsequent horror films, including those for later werewolf pictures such as THE WOLFMAN (1941, scored by Frank Skinner and Hans J. Salter) and CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1960, Benjamin Frankel).

  • The preceding article was expanded from a segment in the author’s book, Musique Fantastique, published by Scarecrow Press, 1984.
  • [1] The author acknowledges with thanks the contribution of William H. Rosar’s excellent essay, “Music for the Monsters” (The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Fall 1983) for providing much of the background details concerning Mr. Hajos and Universal Pictures of the 1930’s. All quotes attributed to Rosar are from this source.

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  • Robert Goldberg on said:

    With “Bride of Frankenstein,” for different reasons, this is my favorite Universal horror score, and in fact one of my favorites in all of film music. It’s deeply emotional and evocative, and I smiled through the entire article as I recognized one reference after another. Thanks.

  • Lewis M. Greenberg on said:

    The music by Hajos for Werewolf of London was reused by Universal in the first two Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. List’s Les Preludes was used in the third one.

    • Randall D. Larson on said:

      Correct, thanks for posting. Some more details on Universal’s re-use of its classic monster music in these serials (and on Werewolf of London) can be found in my book Musique Fantastique, Second Edition (www.musiquefantastique.com). – rdl

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