The Wolf Man (1941)

 

1941.

A long time ago, with the world on the cusp of another global conflict…

But meanwhile at Universal Studios…

They were busy bringing us the last of the Big Three Monsters to round out their house of horror. Lon Chaney, Jr plays the titular lycanthrope in this imagining of the werewolf legend.

Larry Talbot (Chaney) returns to his father’s estate after the death of his brother, to assume his role of heir. While there he meets and obviously falls for a lovely, engaged, shop girl named Gwen (Evelyn Ankers).

He convinces her to meet him that evening, and they, along with her friend go to visit a nearby gypsy encampment to have their futures read.

As luck would have it, one of the gypsies is a werewolf… Bela (played by… Bela… Lugosi that is), and kills Gwen’s friend, but is beaten to death, in wolf-form, by Talbot, but only after Larry has been bitten.

The police on investigating only find a dead man with his head caved in, beaten to death by Larry’s recovered walking stick, and Larry begins to fear that he too is cursed.

The Wolf man is a fun flick and the is one of the first appearances in Hollywood of the lycanthrope in modern cinema. The design of the film is made to alienate Chaney’s character, to make him feel out of place, even in his ancestral home. He is larger than all of his co-stars, towering over Claude Rains who plays his father. (Rains of course is no stranger to horror, having played The Invisible Man in 1933, but going on to greater fame in 1942 as Captain Renault in Casablanca).

Bela’s role almost feels like a cameo, like he’s personally extending the invitation to Chaney to join the exclusive club of Hollywood Monsters.

I did have a problem with one thing, when Bela’s character attacks and bites Talbot, they use an actual dog, or at least an approximation there of. But when Talbot changes, he remains bipedal, though very vicious looking. Perhaps the longer he continues living as a werewolf, month after month, year after year, the more wolf-like he becomes…

Which leads of course to the make-up work for Chaney…

Nice, and of course, instantly memorable, just like the images of both Frankenstein and Dracula have inundated the public, so has this version of the wolf man. Though not necessarily my favorite. I peeked ahead in the book, and my fave does show up later, so I won’t spoil it.

The film, like Dracula, and Frankenstein, seems to run a little short, just breaking the horror mark, so there isn’t a lot of time spent on character development and the like. There’s the set-up, the bite, the change and the pay-off.

Talbot doesn’t ask for what happened to him, and once he realizes whats going on, he does try to stop himself.

In the end, it comes down to a deciding clash between he and his father…

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    In your review, you wrote: “The Wolf man is a fun flick and the first appearance in Hollywood of the lycanthrope in modern cinema..” Actually, there were other werewolf films before The Wolf Man–including another from Universal only a few short years earlier. That film was 1935’s “Werewolf of London,” starring Henry Hull and Valerie Hobson (Hobson also appeared in “The Bride of Frankenstein” that same year).

    1. TD Rideout says:

      I stand corrected, I have another title to track down!! Thanks!

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