The Wolf Man
Director: George Waggner
Written by: Curt Siodmak
Weapon of Choice: Silver-headed cane
Based upon: none
Other movies in this series:
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
House of Frankenstein
House of Dracula
Rish Outfield's reviews
If I'm not mistaken, this is the first movie we've reviewed from the 1940's. As a kid, of all the Universal monsters, the Wolf Man was always my favourite. The reason is probably the dichotomy of the peaceful, kind, haunted Larry Talbot and the soulless, shameless, mindless savage he becomes-–a much less human monster than Dracula, The Invisible Man, or even the Frankenstein Monster.
This film begins with picture credits, which is unusual. Lawrence Talbot returns from America to his father's estate, and after visiting a gypsy camp, is attacked by a werewolf. Though he kills it, he finds himself beset by the same curse, and every full moon, he becomes the wolf man!
"Even a man who's pure at heart, and says his prayers by night;
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright."
This poem is repeated three times by three different characters, and it really sums up the film. Lon Chaney Junior is great as the title character, truly a man who is pure at heart, but a monster all the same.
This is another keeper, folks. A nice script, with a multi-level story and intelligent dialogue. More great makeup from Jack Pierce (who I really ought to list on the Makeup Artists page someday)-–we never actually see the transformation, just the legs and a reversion at the end. A good cast, with an odd mix of both English and American actors. Claude Rains plays the stately and dignified Sir John Talbot. Evelyn Ankers plays a young town woman, Gwen, who immediately attracts young Talbot's eye. Bela Lugosi plays Bela (good name!), the gypsy lycanthrope who infects Talbot with his curse. Malena, the old gypsy woman, was cool, always uttering accented, mysterious dialogue. Ralph Bellamy as the babe's boyfriend and the manly figure of the film.
I'll always remember Chaney as this role, you can't help but love him (even though he apparently never got out from under his more famous father's shadow). He's very likeable as Talbot, with a decent, everyday guy quality. True, he does stand a foot and a half taller than his old man, and he's quite American, while his dad is as English as crumpets. But ah well. I gave it two Villain Sympathy Skulls because the monster WAS the hero. A real tragedy, because Sir John didn't believe, his son went on to kill again. One thing I didn't get was that Gwen's boyfriend steps out of the movie so Gwen and Larry can have an almost romance, but of course, the second Talbot is dead, she was back in her fiancé's arms.
The Wolf Man wasn't as good or satisfying as Bride of Frankenstein, but it was better than most. It suffers from the same dumb, abrupt ending that they all pretty much had. There's no denouement-–they just flash "The End." I shouldn't compare these to modern films, but hey, there are still movies today that end the same way (Halloween: H20 for example).
Note: As I said in my Frankenstein review, I feel funny giving this our slasher Skulls, since most of the cliches we point out weren't either invented yet or allowed to be shown when this was released.
Posted: April 24, 2001
The tyranist's thoughts
What can you say about a movie that is part of the foundation of the genre you've dedicated years of your life to? What can you say about a movie with both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.?
It is interesting that as frightening as movies like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were, they are fundamentally about tragic figures. After these initial movies, it would be years before anyone made movies again that had such sympathetic monsters. There's something majestic and graceful in these movies. The monsters are dignified. The heroines are beautiful. The mobs evil and misunderstanding.
This movie is amazing even all these years later. It is happy and sad and moving. The performances are spot on and the script is well-written. It is a shame that we've entered an age where not only do we ignore the black and white classics, but we often remake them into inferior movies.
Compared with The Wolf Man, Van Helsing is a banal empty movie notable only for its special effects and Kate Beckinsale. I liked Van Helsing, but I can't honestly say it was a better movie than this one. And I hope that you would take this as the high praise I intend it to be. Please, don't waste another day. See The Wolf Man if you haven't.
Posted: July 12, 2004
Total Skulls: 6
|Rips off earlier film|
|Horror film showing on TV/in theater in movie|
|Future celebrity appears|
|Former celebrity appears|
|Girl unnecessarily gets naked|
|Death associated with sex|
|Unfulfilled promise of nudity|
|Characters forget about threat|
|Power is cut|
|Phone lines are cut|
|Someone investigates a strange noise|
|Someone runs up stairs instead of going out front door|
|Camera is the killer|
|Victims cower in front of a window/door|
|Victim locks self in with killer|
|Victim running from killer inexplicably falls|
|Toilet stall scene|
|Car stalls or won't start|
|Cat jumps out|
|Stupid discovery of corpse|
|No one believes only witness|
|Crazy, drunk, old man knows the truth|
|Warning goes unheeded|
|Music detracts from scene|
|Death in first five minutes|
|x years before/later|
|Dark and stormy night|
|Killer doesn't stay dead|
|Killer wears a mask|
|Killer is in closet|
|Killer is in car with victim|
|Villain is more sympathetic than heroes|
|Blood spatters - camera, wall, etc.|
|Poor death effect|
|No one dies at all|
|Little kid lamely survives|
|Dog/Pet miraculously survives|
|"It was all a dream" ending|
|Unbelievably happy ending|
|Unbelievably crappy ending|
|What the hell?|