The Wolf Man – Classic Horror Week

The Wolfman is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Wolf Man (1941)

“Upon returning to his ancestral home in Wales, Larry saves a local girl from a werewolf but is bitten during the attack. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him.”

“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. “

Universal made Werewolf of London in 1935. Jack Pierce developed the Wolf Man makeup for that film but Henry Hull refused to sit in the makeup chair that long. Pierce’s iconic makeup would go unused for six years. The werewolf transformation showcased in The Wolf Man blows away that used in Werewolf of London.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not a very good actor but he did excel at portraying depressed-types. He is wonderful as the doomed Lawrence Talbot and would reprise this role repeatedly. Even when he isn’t playing Talbot, his characters come across as maudlin. His Son of Dracula was the biggest sad sack of a vampire until Twilight.

Universal seemed unsure of Chaney as a horror icon. Chaney started out acting as Creighton Chaney but in 1935, a producer insisted he change his name to Lon Chaney Jr., a ruse he hated. For The Wolf Man, Universal even had him drop the Jr. from his name. Even at that, Chaney is last/eighth billed here. This is not surprising as he was a last minute replacement for Dick Foran, who himself was a replacement for Boris Karloff.

While Lugosi is always a welcome sight, he receives fifth billing for what amounts to a cameo. Claude Rains is excellent here, returning to Universal after a string of films including The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. He anchors the picture as Larry’s father, the no-nonsense Sir John Talbot. Patrick Knowles, playing Frank Andrews here, would return in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man as our Dr. Frankenstein substitute, Dr. Mannering. Finally a young Ralph Bellamy plays Colonel Montford.

The women receive short shrift here. If you look on the poster, their billing is in tiny print. Evelyn Ankers plays Gwen Conliffe, the woman at the center of a romantic triangle. She would go on to be a Universal horror star in Son of Dracula, Captive Wild Woman, The Mad Ghoul, The Frozen Ghost and others. The delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays Maleva the gypsy fortune teller, a role she was born for. She would reprise it in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Universal has all the normal accoutrements here except a castle: fog-shrouded moors, graveyards, an old-fashioned village, and gypsies. Chaney’s German Shepherd gets a cameo as the wolf Larry fights with.

Sequel-itis: Larry Talbot continues his story in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1950).