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The Wolf Man
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Synopsis for
The Wolf Man (1941) More at IMDbPro »

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The 1941 version of the Wolf Man opens with the Universal Picture airplane and globe logo and theme, followed by title and credits. The featured players are shown with the actor's name and character's name. We zoom in on a shelf of books. An encyclopedia is opened to the article on Lycanthropy. Talbot Castle is mentioned in the old legend.

The chauffeur (an uncredited Eric Wilton) drives Lawrence Stewart Talbot, known affectionately, as Larry (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to the family home, Talbot Castle. He is greeted, very formally, by his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). They enter a large room and Larry is introduced to Captain Paul Montford (Ralph Bellamy), the chief constable of the district. Larry expresses his sorrow over the death of his older brother, and heir to the family estate, John. Sir John apologizes for being so distant. Larry has been away for eighteen years. Two butlers enter the room carrying a large crate: a part for the telescope. Sir John and Larry walk up to the attic, now serving as an observatory. Larry works on the telescope, having worked for an optical company in California. He proudly explains one job was on the Mt. Wilson observatory. Larry trains his telescope on the town below and spots Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) in her room putting on earrings. He takes a trip to Conliffe's antique shop hoping to meet Gwen in person. He does and asks for earrings as a gift. Larry asks for a very specific pair, then tells Gwen she has a pair up in her room. He decides to buy a cane. Larry grabs one with a silver wolf's head and jokes that it would make a good golf putter. Larry is trying to be charming, but balks at paying three pounds until Gwen explains, "Well, that's a very rare piece. It shows the wolf and the pentagram, the sign of the werewolf." She tells him a bit of the legend. She recites the old poem, "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright." A noise outside draws Gwen to the street outside. An old gypsy woman, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) and her son Bela (Bela Lugosi) are riding into town with their cart and wagon.

Larry returns to the house and asks his father about the legend. Sir John repeats the poem which leads the conversation to Gwen. Sir John encourages Larry to get to know the townsfolk. Gwen exits the shop that evening, and at the appointed time, Larry arrives. Gwen introduces Jenny Williams (Fay Helm). So Larry is resigned to a three-person date. Jenny sees wolfbane blooming and gathers some, reciting the poem. The three enter the gypsy camp. Bela greets them. They've come to have their fortunes told. Jenny insists on having her fortune told first. Maleva stares at Gwen and Larry, and then enters her tent. Bela tells Jenny to cut the cards. Larry and Gwen go off for a walk. Larry admits he watched her through his telescope. Gwen has an admission of her own, she's engaged to be married soon. Bela arranges the cards and stares at the flowers. Annoyed, Bela throws the flowers off the table and brushes his hair aside. There is a pentagram star on his forehead. Jenny demands to know what Bela saw in the cards. Bela asks for her hands, the left shows the past and the right shows the future. Bela sees the pentagram in a circle on her right hand: the next victim of the werewolf. Bela is now in a panic and demands Jenny leave, and quickly. Jenny runs through the woods, Larry and Gwen hear a wolf howl. Jenny screams and Larry runs off to help her. He sees a wolf attacking Jenny. The wolf turns on Larry and they struggle. He beats the animal with his cane, using the silver wolf's head to kill the beast. Larry was bitten in the struggle and staggers away. Gwen finds Larry and calls for help from Maleva who is passing in her cart. Maleva agrees to help and take him home to the castle.

The butler, Kendall (an uncredited Leyland Hodgson), goes to the door and admits Larry, Gwen and Maleva. Gwen and the butler help Larry to an entry table. Maleva makes a quiet exit. A villager reports the death of Jenny, and Montford leaves with the man to investigate. Sir John and the butler take Larry upstairs to his room. A doctor is called. Twiddle (Forrester Harvey) takes notes as Montford dictates. Dr. Lloyd (Warren William) examines Jenny's remains and his observations are added to the notes. Frank Andrews (Patric Knowles) finds the body of Bela near Jenny. Larry's cane is found next to Bela's body.

Larry wakes in his bedroom in Talbot Castle. Sir John, Dr. Lloyd and Montford enter the room. Montford asks Larry if the cane his is holding belongs to Larry. Larry says, "Why, of course. That's the one I killed the wolf with." Sir John tells his son that Bela the gypsy was killed and his cane was found near the body. The bite marks are gone. Sir John has an explanation for the scene of the crime and the doctor agrees, but Montford is not satisfied.

In town, Larry is present when Bela's casket is brought into the church for services. Larry enters the church. Before he can open the lid and examine the body, the minister and Maleva enter the church. The minister is upset at the pending pagan celebration for Bela. Maleva opens the casket and recites, "The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own. But as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Your suffering is over, Bela, my son. Now you will find peace."

Charles Conliffe (J.M. Kerrigan) reassures his daughter, Gwen, that there is nothing the authorities can accuse her of. Gwen is still upset over Jenny's death. Jenny's mother, Mrs. Williams (an uncredited Doris Lloyd), along with other women of the village, confront Mr. Conliffe over Gwen's involvement in her daughter's death. Things escalate and Conliffe demands they all leave. Larry enters the shop and confronts the women. They exit in a hurry. Larry enters the parlor to talk to Gwen. She wants to know exactly what happened. Frank Andrews enters the shop with his dog. He walks to the parlor to talk to Gwen and Larry. The dog begins to bark at Larry. Gwen suggests her fianc take the dog outside. Gwen and Larry discuss Frank while he is attending to his dog. Gwen explains that Frank is the gamekeeper on Sir John's estate. Larry extends his hand to Andrews, but Frank just stares at his hand, but does not shake it. Larry excuses himself. Gwen asks, "Frank, why were you so rude?" He explains he was mesmerized by the walking stick, and adds, "Well, there's something very tragic about that man. I'm sure that nothing but harm will come to you through him."

Gwen and Frank attend the gypsy carnival and celebration for Bela. Larry shows up to watch the dancing. The three walk over to the target shooting booth. Larry does well with the rifle until a wolf figure pops up on the board. Larry walks over to the encampment. Maleva is there and wants to talk. She tells him she expected him sooner. Larry and Maleva enter the tent. She tells Larry that the wolf was Bela. She explains, "Bela became a wolf, and you killed him. A werewolf can be killed only with a silver bullet, or a silver knife, or a stick with a silver handle." Larry insists he killed an ordinary wolf. Maleva gives him a charm with a pentagram on it. She tells him, "It can break the evil spell." Maleva recites another section of the legend, "Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives, becomes a werewolf himself." Larry admits the wolf bit him. Maleva places the charm around Larry's neck and tells him to keep it on and over his heart, always. She asks to see the wound. Larry runs off, and Montford sees Maleva exit her tent. The word is spread amongst the gypsies and they break camp and prepare to leave the area.

Larry bumps into Gwen. She and Frank had a quarrel so Larry volunteers to walk her home. She asks about the curious charm. He divulges that he is now a werewolf and gives Gwen the charm for her protection. Larry steals a kiss, but the noise of the gypsies scares Gwen off. One gypsy tells Larry they are frightened because there is a werewolf in camp. Larry reflects on the events of the past and runs home. In his room, Larry checks himself for any physical changes. He removes his shoes and one sock. To his horror his leg and foot are covered with tufts of hair. He removes the other sock and both feet and legs are now covered with a thick matting of long hair. The feet transform to animal paws. Larry stands and walks on his toes. He finds himself outside, prowling around the cemetery. His hands are now claws, and his face is dark and hairy. He sports sharp, long, canine teeth. Richardson, the gravedigger (an uncredited Tom Stevenson) is finishing up Jenny Williams grave and spots the Wolf Man. It growls at the gravedigger, then attacks and kills him. The howling wakes the townsfolk. Montford and Twiddle are joined by three other men by the body of the gravedigger. A severed jugular is the cause of death--the same as Jenny Williams. They spot wolf tracks in the dirt.

The next morning an open window with wolf prints on the windowsill are seen. They lead to Larry Talbot's bed and a fully dressed Larry just waking up. On his chest is the mark of the five pointed star. He tries to wipe away the footprints, and then sees Montford investigating the garden below his window. Sir John informs his son that Richardson, the gravedigger, was killed and that the tracks lead up to the castle. Father and son discuss the legend until the church bell rings for morning services. The chauffeur drops the pair off at church. They greet the Conliffes outside then enter the church. Larry is uneasy and holds back. Everyone turns around to stare at the heir apparent to the Talbot estate. Larry quickly departs as the services begin.

Sir John, Montford and Dr. Lloyd discuss the next steps needed in the main room of the castle. Larry enters the room and the discussion. Larry explains what they seek is a werewolf. Dr. Lloyd tells Larry it is a mental disorder. Andrews and Montford leave to set traps to catch the beast. After Larry leaves, Dr. Lloyd tells Sir John, "Your son is a sick man. He's received a shock that has caused definite psychic maladjustment. You must send him out of this village." Sir John accuses Lloyd of talking like a witch doctor, and believes that Larry staying in town is the best for his cure. Traps are set and covered with leaves.

That night Larry is back out on the prowl and is snared in one of the traps. He growls and pants, dragging the trap around the woods. Men with dogs approach. The Wolf Man is frantic to escape. The dogs have lost the scent. Maleva rides up in her cart. She finds the Wolf Man and sees the trap on his leg. She repeats the chant, "The way you walk is thorny," speech, the same as she delivered for Bela. The Wolf Man changes back to Larry. She explains she is there to help. Larry removes the trap and runs off, but is stopped by two villagers on the hunt for the wolf. They recognize Master Larry and talk. Larry limps off and Montford follows. Larry goes into town and wakes Gwen. She lets him into the shop. He tells her he must go away. She agrees to accompany him, but he admits to killing Bela and Richardson. He is afraid he may hurt Gwen. He recoils when he sees the sign of the pentagram in her palm. Larry rushes home. He tells his father he killed Bela and that he will kill Gwen next. Sir John now sees that Maleva is the cause of Larry's delusions. Sir John ties Larry to a chair to humor him. Sir John leaves to join the hunt. Larry convinces his father to take the cane with the silver wolf's head handle. Sir John joins the hunt and explains his rationale to Dr. Lloyd. Maleva confronts Sir John. She assures him he should not fear the night as he has the silver cane for protection. As Sir John and Maleva discuss events gunshots are heard. Sir John runs off. The Wolf Man is back on the prowl. Gwen runs up to Maleva and inquires about Larry. Maleva warns her, "Don't go through the woods." Maleva begs Gwen to accompany her, but Gwen runs off. The Wolf Man spots Gwen and stalks her in the woods. It closes in and she freezes. It attacks Gwen and she screams. Sir John is attacked and he strikes at the beast. They struggle, but Sir John gets a very good look at the mythical creature. Sir John knocks the Wolf Man to the ground, then beats it to death. Maleva drives up, gets out of her cart, and crouches down by the body of the Wolf Man. She repeats her, "The way you walked was thorny," speech and to the astonished look of Sir John, it transforms back into his son, Larry. Sir John looks at the cane and realizes he killed his son and heir. He drops the cane and walks over and looks down on Larry's lifeless body. The posse runs towards the scene. Montford concludes, "The wolf must have attacked her, and Larry came to the rescue. I'm sorry, Sir John." We close with Gwen in Andrews arms. She says, Larry!
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