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).

Lon Chaney Jr. – Horror Movie Month

Creighton Chaney had a really tough cross to bear. His father Lon Chaney was one of the most famous actors of the silent screen and was a whiz with makeup and prosthetics. Lon Chaney is best remembered for the title roles of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although born to show business, Creighton didn’t begin appearing in films until after his father’s death in 1930.

He appeared in bit parts until Of Mice and Men (1939) where he did an excellent job of portraying Lennie. His signature horror role came in 1941 with The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941) – Not rated

After teasing his friends for believing in werewolves, Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) is promptly bitten by a rabid wolf and faints. Horror superstars share the screen when Larry wakes to find a gypsy (Bela Lugosi) who moonlights as a werewolf. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him. Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy also grace this classic B movie.

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 (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein).

He has a wonderful supporting cast and of course incredible makeup by Jack Pierce. Bela Lugosi has a small but integral role and the delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays the gypsy fortune teller. Universal stalwarts Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers round out the cast.

The Mummy’s Curse (1944) – Not rated

When a crew sent by high priest Zandaab (Peter Coe) of Arkam and his servant, Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), unearths the bodies of Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) in a Southern bayou, the bandaged monsters start destroying everything in their path. Leslie Goodwins directs this chiller; Kay Harding, Kurt Katch, Addison Richards, Holmes Herbert and Dennis Moore co-star.

Universal puts some good atmosphere into their horror movies and the Mummy series is no exception but only the Karloff original is classic. The Mummy’s Curse has Lon Chaney Jr. as the slow-shuffling, easily escapable Kharis the Mummy. Fun but highly forgettable.

 

The Black Sleep (1956) – Not rated

Three titans of the horror genre make appearances in this grisly period piece about a young doctor on the verge of being wrongfully executed for murder. Enter Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone), who gives the condemned man a drug that induces the appearance of death. Once the ruse works, the body is handed over to Cadman, who has his own sick plans for the still-living man. The high-caliber cast includes Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.

For a Lon Chaney Jr. or Bela Lugosi film this is a big disappointment. Both feature prominently on the poster but neither has much screen time and essentially no dialogue. Still it’s the last film Lugosi completed and it stars Basil Rathbone who has plenty of screen time. John Carradine has a goofy guest spot and Akim Tamiroff is quite humorous as well. Look for noted Ed Wood veteran Tor Johnson as well.

If you are a fan of the above cast then this is a fun watch and a good pick as the film is only available on DVD-R through MGM’s on-demand program.