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).

The Professionals – South of the Border week

This is South of the Border week. We will be featuring movies taking place in Mexico. The Professionals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Professionals (1966) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language, nudity and violence.

“A largely forgotten action-adventure gem, The Professionals teams Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster with more star wattage than most Westerns have ever marshaled. Hired to retrieve kidnapped Claudia Cardinale from bandito Jack Palance, these pros shoot, rope and ride all over northern Mexico. Gorgeous cinematography from Conrad L. Hall (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) makes The Professionals ideal summertime entertainment.”

“Your hair was darker then” – “My heart was lighter then.”

“Maybe there is only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?”

Richard Brooks does double duty here. He not only directed The Professional but also adapted it from the book, “A Mule for the Marquesa” by Frank ORourke. He was nominated for an Academy Award for both of those roles.

Conrad L. Hall was also nominated for an Oscar for color cinematography. Unfortunately The Professionals ran into the juggernaut that was A Man for All Seasons. A Man for All Seasons took 6 Oscars including the three that The Professionals was nominated for.

While the cinematography is gorgeous (nearly a requirement for a good western) and the story takes place in Mexico, the filming was not done there. The Professionals was filmed in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire.

Being a western of the 60s, this film has characters that are a little more complex than earlier decades. They are somewhat introspective. The heroes are not all good and the villains are not pure evil.

Lee Marvin plays the same role he always does and is fun to watch. Burt Lancaster does a good job of letting Lee do the leading. Burt spends his time playing the cynic. Robert Ryan comes the closest to being an old-fashioned western hero and the script does a good job of pointing out that he is somewhat naive in his outlook.

Our fourth hero is played by Woody Strode. I really like that they address the possible prejudice against a person of color without making him the lackey of the group. The other members accept him as an equal.

Owing to his complexion and angular features, Jack Palance was pretty consistently doomed to play the villain. Here he plays Jesus Raza. He actually is not in much of the film but he gets a pretty sweet speech.

Our kidnap victim/love interest is played by the lovely Claudia Cardinale. True story – my wife saw her in person at the Cannes film festival. She had no idea who Claudia Cardinale was and Poppa and I who would have loved to have seen Claudia were off on a park bench at the time.

In spite of the three Oscar noms, this is not a classic film. The action suffers a bit from lack of realism – there would be three more years before we would have the grittiness of The Wild Bunch (1969) and it lacks the polish of The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Mostly due to the cast and cinematography, it is quite enjoyable if you like westerns and I do recommend it on that basis. While the first two acts are fairly standard western tropes, the third act actually has several good payoffs culminating in a very satisfactory finale.

People Watch: Our intrepid group is hired by Joe Grant played by Ralph Bellamy. While he starred in literally hundreds of movies from the 30s on, Ralph Bellamy is currently best known for two roles. He played Randolph Duke in Trading Places opposite Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. He also played FDR in The Winds of War and War and Remembrance miniseries.