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The Wolf Man

From the video case: Lon Chaney, Jr. portrays Larry Talbot, who returns to his father’s (Claude Rains) ancient castle in Wales and meets a beautiful woman (Evelyn Ankers) in the nearby village. One fateful night, Talbot escorts her and her friend Jenny to a local carnival where they meet a mysterious gypsy fortune teller. Soon, Jenny’s fate is revealed when she is attacked by a vicious wolf.

Talbot clubs the wolf to death with his silver-handled cane, but not before he is badly bitten and the curse of the werewolf is upon him.

Foggy atmospheres, elaborate settings and a chilling musical score enhance this haunting classic co-starring Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya. (1941, b&w)

Mark says: Even as a kid, I was not so much frightened of the wolf man as I was fascinated by him. Lon Chaney’s (The Alligator People, The Mummy’s Tomb) mannerisms and appearance reminded me of my father, which made the film more personal to me. I’ve had a fondness for werewolves ever since.

I am still drawn to Chaney’s sympathetic portrayal of Larry Talbot, a man haunted by the past and returning to his father’s estate to make good. Of course, Larry Talbot is not completely innocent. After all, he first spies on Gwen (Evelyn Ankers; Son of Dracula, The Ghost of Frankenstein), in her bedroom through a telescope lens, and then continues to woo her even after she makes it clear that she is engaged to be married. Still, Larry is a likable chap, and we don’t wish him any harm.

Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) turns in a fine performance as Larry’s authoritative father. However, I’ve always thought it humorous how Lon Chaney towers above his movie father. There’s not much of a family resemblance, but the two work well together as father and prodigal son.

This film also boasts other screen greats like Bela Lugosi (Dracula, Bride of the Monster), who, in my humble opinion, plays a better gypsy/werewolf than a vampire, and Maria Ouspenskaya, who adds so much to this movie with her portrayal of the gypsy woman, that it would be a crime not to mention her in this review.

The Wolf Man is filled with great Gothic atmosphere, and though the story can drag at times, it manages to hold our interest. Perhaps Chaney’s wolf man is not the most frightening of monsters, but he inspires more dread than the beast in Werewolf of London (Universal’s first werewolf film), who takes the time to put on a coat and hat before going out to kill.

The Wolf Man is produced and directed by George Waggner.

I recommend The Wolf Man Legacy Collection from Universal to those of you interested in this movie.

Scene to watch for: After Larry Talbot and his father, Sir John, agree that there will be “no more reserve” between them, Larry calls his father “sir” and then they share a stiff handshake.

Line to listen for: “The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own. For as the rain enters the soil, and the river enters the sea, so tears run to their predestined end. Your suffering is over. Now find peace for eternity, my son.”

Trivia: Evelyn Ankers, the alluring female lead in The Wolf Man, later married B-movie favorite, Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Target Earth, The Black Scorpion).

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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6 Comments

  1. Although I have seen several recent films about werewolves, which featured more realistic transformation scenes, I still find The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. to be my favorite.

    I have seen this movie many times, but when I watched it recently, there were a few things I hadn’t noticed before. First, the transformations scenes didn’t show as much as I remembered. When Larry Talbot changes into the werewolf the first time, only his feet are shown to transform into the wolf. In his second “outing”, we don’t see him change into the werewolf at all, but after he gets caught in the trap, we only see his feet change from wolf to man. The final time he turns into the monster, we again do not see him transform into the werewolf, but once his father has killed him with the silver handled cane, we finally see his face as he changes from werewolf to man. This is the only time, during the film, that his face is shown during his transformation. I always though we saw his face change each time he turned into the monster. I am obviously confusing this film with later Universal films featuring the character.

    In your review, you compare The Wolf Man with The Werewolf of London; stating the Henry Hull character “… takes the time to put on a coat and hat before going out to kill.” If you watch the first transformation scene in The Wolf Man closely, you will notice that Talbot starts out wearing a white undershirt and suit pants. He removes his socks to reveal that his legs are becoming unusually hairy. After the change into the werewolf, with the camera fixed only on his feet, we see that he is still wearing the light colored suit pants as he stands up and walks on the toes of his feet.(This was a neat effect, which was necessary for the monster to only leave paw prints like a wolf, but wasn’t repeated in later “Wolf Man” appearaces.) If I remember correctly, the very next scene shows his wolf feet as he walks through the night mist, only now his pants are darker and as the camera pulls back, his white undershirt has been changed into a dark buttoned shirt. Although it isn’t as obvious as when the transformed Dr. Wilfred Glendon grabbed his coat and hat in The Werewolf of London, it would appear that Larry Talbot’s werewolf actually took the time to change its clothes before going out for the night.

  2. Paul: Some great observations. I noted the “feet transformation” on another blog long ago, and was a little disappointed in myself when I reread this review and found I had left out that particular observation. I didn’t notice the change of pants, though! I’ll have to go back and give it another once over.

    When I first started this blog, I thought I would only list the DVD description, a very short commentary by me, and a general rating. However, as I went along, I found people were just as interested in the details as I was. So my reviews became more sophisticated and I put in a little more research.

    I’ve been tempted many times to go back and rewrite my early reviews because they seem so lacking to me now. “The Wolf Man” definitely deserves a better write up than this. Thanks again for your observations, Paul. Keep ‘em coming!

  3. Mark: If you ask me, I think your reviews are fine just the way they are. Sure you could add more information, and I can appreciate how you feel, but sometimes too much info just bogs down the review. Too many times, reviewers seem to want to delve into the filmmakers mind and read into the story political, psychological, or religious meanings and fill page after page with boring speculations. Your reviews don’t get complicated. They do just what they are supposed to do, give the reader enough information to either want to watch the movie or avoid it.

    Your reviews are fun to read and leave room for further discussion. I appreciate your opinions and enjoy the interesting bits of trivia. The most important word is “fun.” For you, the reviews should be fun to write and you shouldn’t feel pressured to put them out on any schedule. I’ve seen the list of videos in your collection and I’m curious about your views on many of them. I hope writing about these movies remains fun for you for a long, long time. Thanks for sharing the “fun” through your website.

  4. Paul: We definitely have a lot in common. When I started this particular blog I wanted it to be fun and not take up a lot of my time. I’ve had some rather successful blogs in the past (if you judge only by how many hits per day I was getting) but they weren’t always what I was passionate about. This is probably my least “successful” blog, but I enjoy it more than all the others put together.

    Once I was going to give up blogging completely because I was uncomfortable with how much time it took up. However, a close friend suggested I should start a “monster movie blog” with a quick summary and a thumbs up or thumbs down kind of thing. In the old days I would “review” two or three movies a day. It was pretty easy just writing down my gut reactions, and it didn’t take up too much time. (Incidentally, my original horror movie blog was at a Typepad site, and when I switched over to WordPress the dates on the reviews were not preserved. That’s why it looks like a lot of my reviews were written in August of 2006. They are actually older than that.)

    However, as I continued reviewing films, I felt I was leaving out interesting tidbits that people might be interested in. I was also buying books on the genre and learning more that I wanted to pass on. Now it takes me about a week to watch the movie, take notes, grab screen stills, resize the screen stills, do some research, and write and edit the review! I’ve gotten away from my original simplicity, but I am more satisfied with the results.

    Like you, though, I don’t like reviews to drag on. I want to keep them simple and most importantly, readable. I tend to skip over reviews that just retell the story in agonizing detail and don’t really comment thoroughly on the movie itself. That’s why I post the DVD descriptions, so I won’t have to go into the plot too much.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comments, as you certainly must know by now. I also appreciate your insights and memories. Folks like you make it all worthwhile! Of course, it’s pretty fun for me, too.

  5. I liked The Wolf Man, and I think your rating is correct. I’d say it is one of Chaney Jr.’s better performances. Off subject, but does anyone know a good place for The Wolf Man poster? Thanks in advance!

  6. Hey Wolf Fan: I suppose I would try Ebay first. There’s also an online store called Monsters In Motion that has some interesting stuff.


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