Upon the death of his brother, Larry Talbot returns from America to his ancestral home in Wales. He visits a gypsy camp with village girl Jenny Williams, who is attacked by Bela, a gypsy who has turned into a werewolf. Larry kills the werewolf but is bitten during the fight. Bela's mother tells him that this will cause him to become a werewolf at each full moon. Larry confesses his plight to his unbelieving father, Sir John, who then joins the villagers in a hunt for the wolf. Larry, transformed by the full moon, heads for the forest and a fateful meeting with both Sir John and Gwen. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
Universal Studios had an impressive list of successes in the horror genre starting in 1931 with Tod Browning's "Dracula". The myth of the werewolf, was firstly adapted in 1935 in "Werewolf of London", but the movie failed to get the public's attention in the same way as the "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" series of movies. However, the moon shined for the wolf in 1941, when a second attempt was done with a completely new story. "The Wolf Man" had a great reception and soon was considered among the finest of the Universal Studios' movies of that era and it is probably the last of the Classics as the horror movies of the 40s started to have lower budget and production values.
"The Wolf Man" is a classic tragedy where a man becomes a beast that must kill every time the full moon shines on the sky. Lon Chaney Jr. is Larry Talbot, who returns home to Wales after spending years in the U.S.. Not only he'll have to adapt to the life in countryside and improve his relationship with his father (Claude Rains); now he'll face the curse of the werewolf after been bitten by the gypsy Bela (Bela Lugosi).
I have always thought that the previous "Werewolf of London" was a vastly superior film in terms of acting, direction and even make-up; however, the film's plot is not captivating and in the end not very attractive. On the other hand, Curt Siodmack's script for "The Wolf Man" is a brilliant masterpiece of horror and fantasy. So perfect that it makes up for all the film's other flaws, as it has an unnatural charm that is simply mesmerizing.
Like a Greek tragedy, the saga of Larry Talbot and his curse works in so many levels that is no surprise that it is the film that not only type-casted Chaney, but also serve as basis for all the future werewolf films. Siodmack basically creates the Werewolf myths out of thin air and gives them form with masterful care. Who can forget Maleva's (Maria Ouspenskaya) words? The "Wolf Man" rhyme is now one of the most famous quotes in film history.
Claude Rains is superb as Sir John Talbot, and gives the role the dignity that requires. Probably Lon Chaney Jr. had a limited range as an actor, but he was the perfect Larry Talbot with his sad looks and overall tragic appearance. Against all odds, Chaney embodied the wolf man and made the part almost mythical. The rest of the cast was definitely not as convincing as those great actors; however, Maria Ouspenskaya and Bela Lugosi are terrific as the gypsies who will play an important part in Talbot's future.
Jack Pierce's make-up is definitely the other star in this movie. The legendary monster maker created a piece that is now considered legendary. The wolf man's make-up is more beast-like and primal than the subtle one that Henry Hull used in "Werewolf of London", but that is because both werewolves are very different between them. While Hull's character was the darkest side of his persona, Chaney's wolf man is a beast that posses his body, and Jack Pierce captured that essence with the limited technology of his time, creating an immortal masterpiece in make-up history.
"The Wolf Man" may not be a perfect film, but the captivating storyline and the mystique surrounding it definitely have earned this movie a huge reputation as one of the best of the Universal Studios films of the 30s-40s era. While there may be better werewolf movies out there, this one will always be remembered as THE definitive werewolf classic. 8/10
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