The Werewolf, 1924

The Werewolf, a comedy in three act by Gladys Unger
adapted from The Werwolf by Rudolph Lothar
Produced by George B. Lellan, directed by Clifford Brooke
Forty-ninth Street Theatre, New York
August 25, 1924

Cast of characters

Caterina Ruth Mitchell
Nina Gaby Fleury
Vincente Vincent Serrano
Florencio De Viana Edwin Nicander
The Priest Sydney Paxton
Duchess of Capablanca Laura Hope Crews
Camilla Marion Coakley
Paolo Moreira Leslie Howard
Eliphas Leone Lennox Pawle

Plot Summary
The Duchess of Capablanca is disturbed by the thought that the spirit of the late Don Juan may be roaming her castle grounds, where formerly the great lover lived and played around. Reports from the peasantry that three pretty girls have been attacked within the grounds without exciting the watchdogs also worries her. She invites a psychic from Barcelona to investigate. The psychic is convinced that the astral body of Professor Moreira is responsible. Whereupon the professor becomes suddenly popular. That night the Duchess herself appoints a rendezvous with him. And discovers next morning her handsome butler was the prowler. He is not discharged.
(Burns-Mantle, The Best Plays of 1924-1925)

Reviews

American critics who witnessed it abroad were fond of boasting of this joyously rowdy play and of explaining that it would be quite impossible for it to be done in America.
And now “The Werewolf” has been produced. The various escapades have been left practically as they stood in the original German. Little censorship has been visited, upon the lines. And so far there has been no shock and non indignation.
[…]”The Werewolf” is more honest and through than the conventional American farce of adventure. There is no effort made to preserve the technical virtue of any character. In this play sin is used instead of the appearance of sin, which seems to me far more moral and wholesome.
After a slow first act “The Werewolf” is pretty generally funny. It is a good performance, with Laura Hope Crews doing the best and most important work as the pious Duchess of Capablanca. Leslie Howard is excellent as the young professor, and Edwin Nicander amusing as a worldly lawyer. There is a charming performance by Gaby Fleury as the maid. Indeed it is a good cast all through with the exception of Lennox Pawle, who seems to me too heavy handed.
(Heywood Broun, Oakland Tribune, September 7, 1924)

Lothar’s comedy, adroitly translated by Gladys Unger, seems to me to be as funny a risqué evening as I have encountered in the theatre in a number of years. While risqué, it is never vulgar, never cheap. Its basic idea is surely rich in comic, Boccaccioan juices. A psychic expert, present at a gay and tony houseparty in a sort of Joseph Urban Spain, is called upon by the ladies to summon out of the past the ghost of Don Juan. The ladies’ piquant request is overheard by the young butler, who permits himself a soft, sardonic hiccup and withdraws. Night falls. And the fun begins. The direction of the play by Clifford Brooke has all the finish and smooth movement of a brewery wagon. A manuscript that should be made to whirl along as jauntily as a toe dancer is made to grunt and heave like something by Ernst Toller. The reviewer, I believe, have criticized the manuscript in terms of his poor direction of it. Lothar’s play is light, quick, airy. Brooke has treated it as if it were “Rosmersholm.” Miss Laura Hope Crews, as the palpitating Duchess of Capablanca, is admirable. Edwin Nicander, the Adolphe Menjou of the speaking stage, is droll as the gentleman who would take a leaf from the butler. Miss Marion Coakley at least provides a pretty girl for the flat rôle of the only damsel in the houseparty who, to put it euphemistically, doesn’t see ghosts. Lennox Pawle and Leslie Howard are badly miscast.
(George Jean Nathan, The American Mercury, October 1924)

With many winks and leers, a costly and competent company disported itself on the stage of the Forty-ninth Street Theater last evening, where the most sedulously pornographic comedy of recent years was in the throes of its first New York performance.
This was “The Werewolf,” a German farce which has three acts, nine actors and six cases of adultery. Its production in New York is sponsored by George B. McClellan, who took the precaution to engage a gilt-edged cast, with some of the oldest favorites of the American stage heavily involved. Also some of the youngest.
[…]But less persnickety playgoers, who might have no real objection to the
smoking-room atmosphere of “The Werewolf,” could still complain against it on the ground that it seemed pretty dull. It has several moments of true hilarity, but, all told, your correspondent found it pretty tedious. He is not sure why, for the piece is ingenious and one would rather expect it to be funny.
[…]All these naughty worldly goings on seemed only spasmodically amusing, despite the expensive cast aforesaid. Laura Hope Crew, Leslie Howard, Marion Coakley, Edwin Nicander–these were implicated. Miss Crews playing with her accustomed sparkle and Mr. Howard seeming quite sunk beneath the weight of the farce. A nice bit was neatly managed by Gaby Fleury. We are inclined to suspect that a somehow too elegant spirit prevailed in the direction and that a rough and sinful old showman might have made the whole enterprise more entertaining.
Some of the trade journals of the theater evade the responsibility of criticism by giving the verdicts of many first-nighters. For your information, therefore, and in all fairness to “The Werewolf,” it should be reported that George Jean Nathan of the American Mercury shook and roared with cosmopolitan merriment throughout the evening and that Robert C. Benchley of Life faded away after the first act, leaving the play to be reviewed by his astral body.
(Alexander Woollcott, The Sun, August 26, 1924)

Gladys Unger is credited with the authorship of the new shocker, having taken it from a European play by Dr. Rudolph Lothar. Miss Unger is the sort of woman who, when she takes play-writing pen in hand, does so with a great determination to be wicked. She sets her teeth, closes her eyes, knock wood and then pounds and pounds, with a view to producing light innuendos. The result, of course, is dialogue doughy rather than dappled with wit. Miss Unger writes like a woman with a purpose, evolving eroticism with as heavy an air as a moralist bent on teaching a lesson. She might very well be a New England old maid on the loose.
[…]All would be exceedingly merry throughout if Gladys Unger had not in so extreme a form the will of wickedness.
Instead the play plods for an act or more awkwardly, as no such comedy should. Even in the playing of an experienced cast there is an absence of the needful sprightliness. Edwin Nicander has some of it, though clumsily enough. Laura Hope Crews is best in her serious moments, moments allowed by Clifford Brooke, the director, to become too serious. Leslie Howard, Lennox Pawle and Gaby Fleury give competent performances, while Marion Coakley is automatic and Vincent Serrano, though the villain of the piece, clumsy and puritanical.
A charming piquant comedy in the original, no doubt. “The Werewolf” becomes in its American adaptation heavy handed. It should be gay but is garrulous instead.
(Arthur Pollock, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 26, 1924)

About “The Werewolf,” which after its hilarious months in Berlin, and after some heralding here and some well-advised shudders, arrived last night at the Forty-ninth Street Theatre, there was something that made the audience willing to laugh even more than it did. There were good spots and bad spots, but an air toward the amusing.
[…] The trouble with the directing of “The Werewolf” is that the scenes are undertaken point by point, line by line, punch by punch, instead of taking them as wholes. Through this the tempo is slowed up and the variation of tempo killed. We may blame the actors for this, too: most of them take their points too hard; in the high and gay castles of such a farce we must not have matters planted under our noses like that. Edwin Nicander is the worst of such offenders; he needs to be more casual, and to stop interrupting the rhythm of the witty character he plays by pausing so long to register.
Marion Coakley played agreeably and with a welcome good breeding; she should add to this a more fluent method. Laura Hope Crews played delightfully and graciously.[…] Her scenes with the professor, when the Duchess tries to induce him to channel his astral passions in her own direction, is a model of technical gradation. Leslie Howard’s Professor Paolo Moreira was lean and clumsily sincere, as it should be, and with a certain poetry that seemed foolish but poetry nevertheless–a good performance.
Played faster and with a more unearthly naughtiness, “The Werewolf” might be a fairly delightful entertainment.It would have no more morality then than a crackling sonata might have. Laura Hope Crews ought to stand in front and direct the thing anew. You can see that she knows that “The Werewolf” has only the substance of a farcical flight, and that she acts no real woman but a fantasy.
(Stark Young, The New York Times, August 26, 1924)

Leslie Howard in The Werewolf

Leslie Howard and Marion Coakley in The Werewolf (The New York Times, August 17, 1924)

Leslie Howard in The Werewolf

Leslie Howard and Marion Coakley in The Werewolf

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