The Wolf Man (1941) Oct 30, 2013 7:52:13 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Oct 30, 2013 7:52:13 GMT -5
The Wolf Man (1941)
Directed by: George Waggner
Directed by: George Waggner
The Wolf Man, played expertly by Lon Chaney Jr.
"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 poem recited all too often in The Wolf Man
The Wolf Man is the darkest Universal monster film thus far, dealing with heavy subject matter such as man vs. superstition, the lost of individualism, and the dark, spiritual transformation from a man into a creature of the night. Such traits also make it one of the best monster films Universal churned out. The film is almost a werewolf in itself: creepy, unpredictable, difficult to define, often beautiful and misunderstood, and hard to forget.
The film stars Lon Chaney Jr. in the career-making performance of Larry Talbot, who experiences a strange transformation cycle after being bit by a werewolf while defending a woman during an attack. The film begins with Talbot returning home to Llanwelly, Wales to reconnect with his estranged father (Claude Rains). Larry then meets Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), a beautiful woman who runs a local antique shop. In the process of getting to know her, he impulsively buys a silver-headed walking stick, which is said to represent the almighty werewolf.
After rescuing Gwen's friend from a late night wolf attack, which, as stated, led to him being bit, he talks with a gypsy fortuneteller (Maria Ouspenskaya), who states the person who bit him was her son (Bela Lugosi of Universal's earliest monster movie Dracula from 1931) in wolf form. With this realization in mind, Larry is informed he will soon turn into a werewolf, to live a dual life between man and superstition.
From the first frame of the film, you know what your in for with The Wolf Man. A film of many gripping scenes of suspense, careful performances, and beautiful makeup effects done by industry legend Jack Pierce. Consider Larry's transition from man to monster. The scene lasts mere seconds, but makeup-application and costume fitting took roughly ten hours to complete. The transition looks easy, but as always, the process was one of rigor and painstaking craft.
Lon Chaney Jr.'s terrifically straight-laced performance only elevates the believability of the film. Despite the strangeness of the concept, particularly at the time, Chaney Jr. chooses to assume a personality of seriousness and one predicated off of subtleties. It's easily one of the best performances in Universal's lengthy line of monster flicks, and deserves a mention alongside Karloff's Frankenstein and Lugosi's suave Dracula.
In addition, this is one of the few Universal monster films not directed by James Whale, but rather, George Waggner, who went on to produce Universal's color adaption of Phantom of the Opera just two years after the release of The Wolf Man. While I was consistently wowed by Whale's inclusion of massive and detailed sets and his infusion of wit to his material, I doubt he could've made The Wolf Man as well as Waggner. Waggner is concerned with atmosphere and tone, two things that weren't always in the forefront in American cinema. The Wolf Man serves as another film that makes it difficult to decide which monster film I enjoy the best.
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, and Maria Ouspenskaya. Directed by: George Waggner.