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It wasn't the first werewolf movie (that honor goes to `Werewolf of
London'), but it was `The Wolf Man' that gives us most of the werewolf
mythology we still cling to today.
As with most classics, `The Wolf Man' draws its power from a combination of elements. First, there's Curt Siodmak's plausible and intelligent script. Siodmak said he was given a title, a star and a start date, and from there he consolidated and invented the werewolf myth into a cohesive, logical format.
Then there's the actors, a veritable who's who of 1930s-40s Universal horror. Lon Chaney joins the pantheon on great horror actors on this one, playing the tormented Larry Talbot. He manages to give Larry a tragic quality, a man trapped by a curse he doesn't understand or deserve. Chaney also generates considerable chemistry with the luminous Evelyn Ankers, which is surprising considering the rumors that the two practically hated each other. And then there's the always-excellent Claude Rains, who doesn't look very much like Lon Chaney's father, but still exudes quiet authority and authenticity.
Topping off the whole package is a healthy dollop of atmosphere: foggy forests, Gothic mansions and crypts, colorful Gypsy encampments. Each bit of design enhances the sense of mystery and dread that surround Larry Talbot, and burns `The Wolf Man' into your memory.
I'll never walk a foggy forest at night again!
Lon Chaney Jr lived under the shadow of his famous father, but in 'The Wolf Man' he helped create a horror icon that has lasted for over sixty years. Chaney had already shown that he could act in 'Of Mice And Men'(1939). In 'The Wolf Man' he gives another excellent performance, but this movie was both a blessing and a curse to his career I think. It forever labeled him a horror actor, and frankly he made a lot of lousy movies after this. Some good ones too, don't get me wrong, but too often he was given b-grade material to work with. Maybe his drinking problem had a lot to do with it, I don't know, but apart from a strong cameo in 'The Defiant Ones'(1958) and a great performance in Jack Hill's cult classic 'Spider Baby'(1964), he rarely was given a role as good as Larry Talbot in this movie. Chaney is surrounded by a very strong supporting cast including horror legends Claude Rains ('The Invisible Man') and Bela Lugosi (sadly only a cameo), Ralph Bellamy ('His Girl Friday'), and frequent costar Evelyn Ankers (she and Chaney made a great on screen couple but apparently hated each other off screen. Such is Hollywood!). Many people complain about the casting of Rains and Chaney as father and son. I agree it's totally unrealistic, but I don't think it hurts the movie at all. The lack of Lugosi is a bigger problem. There was more footage of him but unfortunately it wasn't used in the final cut. It's too bad as more scenes between Lugosi and Chaney would have been a treat. Of course they worked together a few times after this, but mostly in lesser movies. The real scene stealer in 'The Wolf Man' is Maria Ouspenskaya who plays the gypsy woman Maleva. She's just terrific, and gives the most memorable performance after Chaney. 'The Wolf Man' has had an enormous influence on just about every subsequent werewolf movie. Much of the lore seen on screen here isn't in fact traditional, as many people assume, but created by the talented Curt Siodmak ('Donovan's Brain') who subsequently wrote the horror classics 'I Walked With A Zombie'(1943), and 'The Beast With Five Fingers'(1946). 'The Wolf Man' is an undisputed horror classic, and just as entertaining and interesting as it ever was.
As werewolf movies go The Wolf Man is probably the best. It was written
by Curt Siodmak and directed by George Waggner. The script, though it
gets the job done, has altogether too many wolf and dog references in
it for comfort, many in the first fifteen minutes. A horror movie
should never at the outset tell you that it is a horror movie. The
title and and cast often give this away anyway, I grant, not to mention
lobby cards and reviews. But the idea is or should be to draw the
viewer in slowly, enabling him to acclimatize himself to the people and
atmosphere so that the horror can, as it were, creep up on him. For all
its excellent qualities The Wolf Man does not do this. Otherwise it
works fairly nicely.
A thoroughly Americanized Larry Talbot arrives at the estate of his British father, Sir John (A baronet? I wish they'd made this clear). Aside from the fact that he is three times larger than his father and altogether different in temperament (shy and fumbling as opposed to assertive and incisive), the two hit it off well enough. Larry has returned from the States due to the death of his brother, and Sir John clearly wants Larry to take his place (whatever it is) in the village. Larry spies on a young woman through a telescope (Sir John is an astronomer), and goes to her shop, where he buys a cane, with a wolf's head, and asks her for a date. She agrees, but when they meet later on she brings a friend, just in case Larry gets too, well, wolfish. It is autumn and the gypsies are in town. Larry his girl and her friend go to a fortune teller to get their palms read. The palm-reader sees death in the friend's hand and urges her to go. Later on, in the form of a wolf, he attacks and kills the girl, and is in turn killed by Larry with his cane; but Larry is bitten by the wolf, which guarantees that he will become one, too. In time Larry does indeed become a werewolf, but as with everything else in his life only goes half-way. While the animal that attacked him was a wolf, Larry becomes only partly wolf in appearance, though when the transformation occurs he is wholly wolf in spirit, yet walks on two human, albeit furry legs. He is more or less adopted by the dead Gypsy fortune teller's mother, who looks after him, and has a way of turning up in her wagon at appropriate moments. She also recites a poem about werewolfery (or lycanthropy if you will), which I shall not repeat here and which everyone in the village seems to know by heart. Sir John, being a man of science, does not believe that his son is a true werewolf but suffering from some form of mental illness. Yet when the moon rises Larry turns into a werewolf and goes on rampages.
The Wolf Man is quite well made on what appears to be, for its studio, a generous budget; fog swirls everywhere, and the landscape is dominated by gnarled, leafless trees. It's tone is evocative of the Sherlock Holmes films, though not of course the content. There are so many good and bad things in the picture they're difficult to enumerate, and are often jumbled together. Of the bad, the casting of Americans Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy as Brits. Neither give a bad performance, but they don't belong in this film. It's difficult enough to keep one's disbelief in suspension with Lon Chaney on hand, but the addition of these two is a bit too much. Claude Rains, as Sir John, is a great asset to the movie, giving it a touch class and gravitas. His occasionally supercilious manner is in keeping in with the part he plays; and though he doesn't look at all like Chaney's father, he acts it. Maria Ouspenskaya and Bela Lugosi make marvelous gypsies, and they play their parts sincerely, with none of the hamming one might expect. Chaney's Larry Talbot became, after his Lennie in Of Mice and Men, his most famous role. He is sincere if somewhat phlegmatic in his 'normal' scenes, and early on, before the wolf-bite, lacks the joi de vivre he ought to have, as he is supposed to be a carefree young man. Chaney never seemed carefree. On the other hand his tragic, deeply lined face, sad eyes and prematurely middle-aged appearance suggests a troubled soul,--not an easy thing to fake--and in this regard he is magnificent in the part. His worry, over the prospect of another werewolf transformation, and the damage it will cause, appears genuine, and to a degree seems to come at times from outside the character he is playing, which as we know Chaney had serious personal problems, is a case of art imitating life, and the result is a kind of sad serendipity.
Lon Chaney portrays psychological torment, guilt, and conflict so well in this film. These feelings are so absent in this century. Larry Talbot, in contrast to public officials and corporate executives, wants to do the right thing, and feels remorse at the suffering that he has caused. Chaney also does this in his later Inner Sanctum films. Maria Ouspenskaya is also great as Maleva, the gypsy. And the music is also marvelous. Films as these put contemporary horror films to shame. The former are fun and a pleasure to watch. This one is quite good.
The Wolf Man is a film about a man bitten by a werewolf condemned to live the life of his antagonist. Lon Chaney Jr. does an awfully good job transcending the traditional monster out to get everyone with a humane, sympathetic portrait of the titular lycanthrope. This is Universal Studios at its best with a good old-fashioned horror yarn, excellent acting, particularly by supporting cast members Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi, and the outstanding Maria Ouspenskaya as the old and wise gypsy woman, wonderful sets complete with swirling fog, and special effects that were new and fresh in 1941. This film is fast-paced and deserves its rank as one of the great Universal horror classics.
I can't tell you how many times I have seen it but it has to be over 40. Lon Chaney Jr. gives his best performance (he even acknowledged that in an magazine interview once) and is sensational. Not only can he act but he can act with a vengeance. Claude Rains is his loving and sympathetic yet as he puts it himself a stiff necked and demonstrative father who wants to protect his son from well, himself. Evelyn Ankers is outrageously beautiful and captivating. Chaney and her bond like crazy glue to your finger. And the funny thing is they despised each other in real life just like Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland did off the set of Robin Hood. It shows you that in those days actors and actresses really had to ACT. Chaney convinces you he loves this woman but cannot bear the unbearable burden of being cursed and damned to eternal life. Only 90 minutes long but there is enough there to thrill you and it was one of Hollywood's best horror films many consider it to be the best classic horror film ever made. I would say I would have to agree with them.
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
The wolf man is the beast or Freudian "Id" in all of us -- the part of us we
don't want others to see, the part of us we may not even want to see
Lon Chaney, Jr., gives a touching and sympathetic performance depicting his struggle with the monster within him. Some critics were snide, pointing out that he came across too much like Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN, but to say that is to miss the sense of pathos he brings to his part.
The rest of the cast is an interesting mix of character actors, including Bela Lugosi who has a small but important part and Maria Ouspenskaya who recites the werewolf verses with such conviction as to make you think they are true.
This film is a fable about us all. We all have a spilt personality that can overtake us if we are not careful to know ourselves.
Horror films mainly in the '30's and 40's needed 3 good things to make
it a successful one. A good story, a good 'monster' and good actors.
"The Wolf Man" truly is a movie that has all those ingredients present.
"The Wolf Man" is written by one of the best writers of the genre in that period; Curt Siodmak. It also has the 'luck' that it stars Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. Three of the biggest names of that period. Let's face it people, Lon Chaney Jr. isn't that much good of an actor but he still is some sort of an icon with a kind of cult status which makes him extremely good for playing 'monster' parts in movies like this. Lugosi's role is extremely limited and in the few scene's he's in he's terribly overacting. Fans of him will be terrible disappointing by this. Also a legendary person in this is Maria Ouspenskaya. She might not be terribly legendary as an actress but she surely is as an acting teacher. One of her students was Lee Strasberg who later became the teacher of actors such as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. He is probably still best know for portraying Hyman Roth in "The Godfather Part II" for which he also received an Oscar nomination but lost to his own protégé De Niro (Also for "The Godfather Part II".). Another protégé of her was Stella Adler who became the mentor of Marlon Brando. This all to just indicate how legendary Maria Ouspenskaya was.
As for this movie itself; it has a fantastic atmosphere and simple but very effective story with some nice moments in it. The Wolf Man himself has grown into one of the legendary movie monsters and this is the one role that Lon Chaney Jr. will always be remembered for. He later reprise his role as Larry Talbot/Wolf Man in "Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein", "House of Dracula", "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and "House of Frankenstein".
For the fans of classic horror movies this is a must see. Most other 'normal' people will probably just shrug while watching this movie but they should still be able to appreciate the atmosphere and the fine actors and story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Larry Talbot, a prodigal son, returns to his father's country estate.
Following a visit with a friend to a gypsy fortune-teller, he is bitten
by a werewolf and cursed to become one himself. Confused, frightened
and unsure of what is happening to him, tragedy awaits ...
The Wolf Man is a classic Universal horror movie, every bit as influential as Dracula or Frankenstein, with a great gloomy script by Curt Siodmak and memorable performances from Chaney, the gorgeous Ankers, Lugosi and especially Ouspenskaya. Although it is predated by another film (Stuart Walker's 1935 Werewolf Of London), it pretty much invented the cinematic werewolf legend, which for me has always been one of horror's most interesting themes, both visually in terms of special effects and tricks and emotionally - the duality of man, only with scares. The movie works wonderfully on both levels; it's full of terrific moody fog-filled sets and shadows and Jack Pierce's famous makeup job on Chaney is tremendous, but it also deals with the tragedy on a grand Shakespearian level - Larry is doomed from the moment he is bitten and is as much an empathetic victim as a prowling monster. The film spawned three direct sequels and has influenced literally hundreds of horror films since (particularly An American Werewolf In London). A great old scary movie.
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