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)
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.
The Wolf Man is filled with great Gothic atmosphere and though the story can drag, it still manages to hold our interest enough to get us over the slow humps. And let’s not forget that Chaney’s transformation scenes still look super cool. Thank make-up legend, Jack Pierce, for the fantastic werewolf appearance.
Chaney’s wolf man may not be 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.
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, The Black Scorpion).
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.