Released in 1925, Wolf Blood is a notable film for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the sole directorial effort (assisted by co-director Bruce M. Mitchell) of prolific silent film actor George Chesebro. But that’s not what really makes it of interest to a modern viewer. No, the really interesting thing about it is that it is the oldest known surviving film about a werewolf — at least, a werewolf of a sort. It doesn’t feature any on-screen transformations or fur and fangs, but it draws some on the old tales of the loup-garou, a wolf in human form.
Chesebro stars as Dick Bannister, field boss of logging company in Canada. He’s been having some trouble with the head of a rival company, Jules Deveroux, played by Roy Watson. Deveroux has been attempting to sabotage Bannister’s operations. He’s about to have even greater problems.
Deveroux’s so crooked he’d pick his own pocket.
Deveroux even goes so far as to hire a man, Jacques Lebec, to shoot and wound some of Bannister’s men — though he gives instructions to make sure the wounds aren’t fatal. Here the film has a bit of racism, unfortunately, as the villain — played by Milburn Morante — is consistently referred to as a “half-breed”, as though this were somehow responsible for making him a low-life. After one of his men is wounded, Bannister puts in a call to the home office, asking the company owner to come out and see things for herself, and to bring a surgeon. Young company heir Edith (Marguerite Clayton) indeed comes, and brings her fiance, Dr. Eugene Horton (Ray Hanford). Much of the middle part of the plot is about the love triangle that develops.
She likes manly men. Or possibly inhuman ones.
The werewolf side of the story comes in when Bannister gets into a fight with Deveroux, and ends up left in a ditch, bleeding out from an artery. Dr. Horton discovers him, and brings him to the nearest shelter he can find, a cabin away from the camp, but Bannister needs a blood transfusion. Without any willing human donors near by, Dr. Horton is forced to give Bannister a transfusion from a captive wolf.
Fortunately the wolf is type O negative.
After the transfusion and his recovery, Bannister’s men become wary around him, believing he is now half-wolf. Bannister himself is troubled by strange half-remembered dreams of running with a phantom pack. And then a grisly murder scene suggests the loggers’ superstitions may not be unfounded….
The plot in Wolf Blood is fairly rudimentary, as might be expected for a 60-minute silent film. And it takes a fair while to get to the point where the wolfman aspect enters into the story. But aside from the issues mentioned already, it’s reasonably well-written, and the dialogue (on title cards, of course) is believable and occasionally even witty. The actors all had several dozen films under their belts at the time the film was made, and so they perform well together and emote in the usual slight exaggeration common to silent films.
It’s not a great movie… but it would be reasonably entertaining even for somebody who isn’t checking it out from historical interest. And from a historical interest standpoint, monster movie fans will probably get a kick out of seeing what is apparently the first werewolf movie — or at least the oldest one still known to exist. Being public domain, it’s easy to find a copy (Archive.org is where I got mine).