In olden times of Europe, many people were forced from their homelands and became refugees, wandering the forests of the land in search of food and shelter. In some cases, they were picked off by the packs of wolves, though occasionally those animals would come across a baby and adopt it as their own, bringing about the phenomenon of the feral child, a rare instance indeed. One day, a travelling circus of the most low rent type, led by Maestro Pamponi (Hugh Griffith), had stopped by a gallows near the roadside for a bite to eat, so the general dogsbody was dispatched to shoot a rabbit, but he found more than that: an actual wolfboy!
The Legend of the Werewolf was one of the very few films created by British company Tyburn, a minor rival to Hammer about on a par with Tygon, and not even on the level of Amicus. They never made much of an impact, with The Ghoul their most high profile release and likely their best, but as with those Hammer pretenders they did attract talent from that studio, in this case the likes of director Freddie Francis (father of the Tyburn boss, in fact), writer Anthony Hinds (using his John Elder pseudonym), and star Peter Cushing who was content to stick with the homegrown horrors while his friend Christopher Lee tried to make it in Hollywood. The genre was declining by this point, with most audiences flocking to the American product.
Not that this stopped plucky little Tyburn from trying - well, actually it did pretty quickly, which left the most visible outlet for their minor output the late night television broadcasts to come in a near-endless series of movie seasons that filled up the witching hours on Fridays or Saturdays. Should they have scheduled this along with Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf it would be possible to see echoes of the earlier movie here, not least because Hinds scripted them both, loosely based on Guy Endore's classic novel ("classic" because it didn't have many rivals) The Werewolf of Paris. The first movie had the benefit of Oliver Reed as the title character, but in this case it was television actor David Rintoul taking the part.
Not that Rintoul was a bad actor, but as written didn't have much to get his teeth into (hah!) when he wasn't in the wolfman makeup, his Etoile character being a bit of a naive drip who falls in love with prostitute Christine (Lynn Dalby) without realising her profession. He did get a stretch of backstory where we see he has been adopted by Pampino's circus as a moneymaking exhibit, but after growing up and attacking his co-worker he moves to Paris, or what was supposed to be Paris, the sets here were decidedly cheap and limited. Anyway, here's where another British character actor gets involved as Ron Moody plays the owner of the equally cheap zoo (are you noticing a pattern developing here?) which happens to have wolves among its exhibits, naturally suiting Etoile down to the ground.
However, oh dear, when the moon is full he takes a funny turn and gets considerably hairier and toothier, having the habit of tearing out Parisian throats come nightfall. This is made worse when he cottons on to Christine's line of work, and he rampages through the brothel customers which brings him to the attention of police surgeon Cushing, whose appearance turns this into a sort of detective story we know the outcome to: imagine a horror version of Columbo and you're part of the way there. For some reason werewolves never quite made it as big in British chillers as other archetypes, and perhaps here we can see why as nobody seemed very sure of what to do with them. It took an American, John Landis, to offer up the definitive British werewolf movie, which although arriving not long after Legend was light years ahead. Funnily enough, one of the earlier attempts had been Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, which also featured Cushing and the guest star here Roy Castle, though not in the lycanthrope part. Music by Harry Robertson.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).
Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.