There’s a lot of good stuff about An American Werewolf in London–for example, Landis doesn’t have a single joke fall flat–but something about it just doesn’t work.
Something Landis doesn’t do, as a director. I can’t quite put a label on it, since he does so many things well. Like the English setting.
With Robert Paynter’s photography, even when the English are acting stereotypically unfunny, it seems perfectly real. During these sequences, in the second half of the film, it also feels like Landis is doing a deliberate, thoughtful look at someone becoming a werewolf.
Only, he’s really not, because David Naughton’s wolf man is barely a character. Landis just thinks of good scenes and executes them mediocrely.
Maybe if Malcolm Campbell’s editing weren’t so disjointed and awful, Landis could get away with it better. The editing is rather awful–so bad I would forgive all the stupid dream sequences, if only they’d been well cut.
Without the dreams, Landis might have had time to create a real character for Naughton. He sort of coasts through the film, assuming he’s charming enough for it to work.
The supporting cast is excellent, particularly John Woodvine and Brian Glover. Jenny Agutter is fine. Griffin Dunne is occasionally awful, usually due to script problems, but mostly good.
The special effects are similarly problematic. The transformation is neat and amazing, but the actual design for the werewolf is a complete yawn.
The film has a lot of potential… too bad most of it is unrealized.
Written and directed by John Landis; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; produced by George Folsey Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring David Naughton (David Kessler), Jenny Agutter (Nurse Alex Price), Griffin Dunne (Jack Goodman), John Woodvine (Dr. J.S. Hirsch), Lila Kaye (Barmaid), Joe Belcher (Truck Driver), David Schofield (Dart Player) and Brian Glover (Chess Player).