Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wolf Blood (1925)

Director: Bruce M. Mitchell                           Writers: Bennett Cohen & Cliff Hill
Film Score: Silent/Stock                              Cinematography: Lesley Selander
Starring: George Chesebro, Roy Watson, Marguerite Clayton and Ray Hanford

Often mistakenly assumed to be an early werewolf film, Wolf Blood is a silent feature about rival logging operations in Canada. It’s an interesting silent film in that it is an independently produced, the only movie made by the Ryan Brothers Production Company, and theatrically distributed at the time by the Lee-Bradford Corporation who distributed films in the early twenties. There are no well-known stars in the film but the acting is pretty good, and since nearly seventy-five percent of all silent films have now been presumed lost, any example of the genre seems worth examining today, and Wolf Blood is no exception.

The film begins by showing the rival logging camps, one a small operation overseen by George Chesebro, who also did some of the directing on the film. The rival camp is run by Roy Watson and they have decided to begin shooting workers from Chesebro’s camp in order to prevent them from working. Fed up with their tactics, Chesebro sends word to the camps owner and asks for a surgeon to take care of the wounded men. The owner, however, is a young woman, Marguerite Clayton, who has inherited the business from her father. Her fiancé is a surgeon so the two go to the logging camp to help out. But immediately Chesebro falls in love with her and this adds more conflict than just the business concerns.

The title of the film comes from the fact that Chesebro becomes seriously injured at one point and the only blood available to the doctor is from a wolf. Soon word spreads around camp that Chesebro is half wolf because of the transfusion, and he eventually becomes convinced that he is part wolf. One great scene is almost exactly like that in The Wolf Man from 1941, when Chesebro wants to leave camp because he’s convinced he’s half beast, and Clayton wants to go with him. It’s almost identical to Lon Chaney, Jr. and Evelyn Ankers in the later film. There is also a not-so-subtle anti-drinking message relayed by the film, and this leads me to think that perhaps the whole “wolf” aspect of the picture might also be intended as a symbol for alcoholism by the producers.

It is definitely a better than average silent film, and the restoration work that has been done on it makes it infinitely watchable. The stock music used as a score has been edited in as best it can to support the action, something not always done in public domain products, and though it’s a little overly dramatic at times, it works. The print is very good quality, and the tinting used in the film is tremendous, a light touch rather than the overbearing use that accompanies some better known films like Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad. For those who enjoy silent films, Wolf Blood is a fine example of mid-twenties independent filmmaking and well worth watching.

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