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The Hyena of London (1964)

Thanks to Derek M. Koch and Monster Kid Radio’s Social Distance Saturday, I discovered a real gem from 1964, La jena di Londra (The Hyena of London.) Not only had I never heard of it, I could not find a single mention of it in any of my film reference books. It sounds like I need to invest in a really good Eurohorror guide; does anyone have suggestions? Either that, or, we need a Blu-ray restoration with a Troy Howarth commentary.


The mood is set from the very beginning. Sentenced to die on the gallows on December 19, 1883, Martin Bauer, “the ferocious criminal better known as “the Hyena of London,” is slowly led down a long… long hallway that looks more like an underground tunnel. As the men finally come closer to the camera and then open a door, Bauer stares at the shadow of a noose on the wall and almost smiles.


The next thing we see, a caretaker in serious need of a cough drop wanders through a very gothic cemetery at night to find an open grave. The look on his face expresses his surprise and, perhaps, terror. Roll the opening credits. What a terrific start! Without seeing one minute more of the movie, you sense that this early example of giallo is going to revolve around the question: did the Hyena rise from the grave?


What follows is, in some ways, a typical murder mystery that’s loaded with romantic drama and red herrings. Muriel (Diana Martin) is secretly in love with Henry (Tony Kendall), a young man of whom her father, Dr. Edward (Giotto Tempestini) does not approve. Edward’s assistant, Dr. Finney (Angelo Dessy), is not so secretly in love with Muriel and will stop at nothing to have her for himself.


So it’s familiar, but it’s also effective. You don’t realize the plot I just summarized all at once; it unfolds slowly as its points are revealed, and, as it does, it takes advantage of its locations to maximize the gloomy atmosphere. It’s a film that favors viewing of a murky public domain print, containing scenes that are individually disturbing regardless if they have anything to do with the murders being committed.


For example, when Finney confronts Muriel in the woods, he confesses that he worships her and wants her consent to marriage. He says, “If I wanted, I could have you by force,” to which she responds, “You’re despicable.” Then, Finney’s wife pops out of the bushes and tells him she was right about her suspicions of him cheating on her. She calls him a pig and he throws her to the ground.


I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Luciano Pigozzi, “the Peter Lorre of Italy,” appears as Peter, the butler. The casting decision and the role he’s playing make him a suitable suspect as it is. He also has his own dramatic subplot with his wife, Margie (Ilona Drash), who’s having an affair with another member of the staff, Chris (Giovanni Tomaino.) It’s all very soapy, yet very sinister.


Ultimately, the solution comes from left field, not having much to do with anything that’s happened during it’s 79-minute running time. It’s a case of once all the red herrings have been removed, who remains? Nevertheless, the ending oddly fits and it satisfies. It’s probably also a case of the movie being more about the journey than the destination. If so, it’s a fun trip and one I’d take again some day.


Written by Gino Mangini

Directed by Gino Mangini

Starring Giotto Tempestini, Diana Martin, Tony Kendall, Ilona Drash, Clause Dantes, Luiano Pigozzi, Giovanni Tomaino, Gono Rossi, Angelos Dessy

RT 79 min.

Released on June 23, 1964 (Italy)

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