The Wolf Man

Released:  1941

Cast:  Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi

SUMMARY:  Some eighteen years after leaving, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his family home in Llanwelly, Wales.  Following the death of his older brother, Larry is in line to take over the management of the estate from his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains).  Larry quickly develops an attraction for his neighbor Gwen Conliffe, who works in her father’s antique store.  Larry visits the store to talk to her, and buys a cane featuring a silver wolf’s head.  Gwen tells him that it is the head of a werewolf, a man who changes into a wolf at “certain times of the year”.  Even though Gwen is engaged to Frank Adams, Sir John’s gamekeeper, she agrees to go out with Larry that evening.  However, when Larry picks her up he learns that she has also invited her friend Jenny Williams.  The group goes to the camp of a recently-arrived group of gypsies to have their fortunes told.  Unbeknownst to them, the fortune teller (Bela Lugosi) is a werewolf, and sees the pentagram (the sign of the werewolf’s next victim) on Jenny’s palm.  As the group leaves the werewolf attacks and kills Jenny.  Larry tries to rescue her and attacks the werewolf with his cane; he manages to kill the wolf but is bitten in the chest.  A short time later another gypsy, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), tells Larry that the bite was from a werewolf, meaning that he is now also a werewolf.  Sure enough, Larry transforms into a werewolf each evening, and begins prowling the woods looking for victims.  His first victim is a solitary gravedigger, whom he kills.  During the day Larry has very little memory of his nightly escapades, but he begins to suspect something is wrong when he finds dirt, wolf tracks and open windows in or around his room.  He tries to get help from his father and a local doctor, but the consensus is that he is suffering from some sort of mental illness.  Larry tries to warn Gwen to stay away from him, but she insists on staying and trying to help him.  Meanwhile, the townspeople assemble with guns and traps, determined to get rid of the menace to their town.  Gwen tries to run into the woods to find Larry, but is attacked.  Sir John, who does not realize that his son is the werewolf, uses the silver cane to beat the wolf off, eventually killing it.  However, as the wolf lays on the ground, it slowly transforms back into Larry.

MY TAKE:  Universal was pretty famous for their monster movies back in the day, and this is one of these.  It even features two horror movie icons — Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and Lon Chaney, Jr. (the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, son of Dracula).  However, I didn’t find this movie that scary or really entertaining.  The werewolf myth is not very well explained, and Chaney’s wolf form doesn’t look anything like an actual wolf.  It’s a pretty short movie, so things seem a little rushed in terms of the plot.  I feel like it would have benefitted a lot from a slightly longer plot that provided more backstory and room for tension, and from better makeup effects for Chaney.  I was surprised that the people were so disbelieving that Larry was a werewolf, since they all repeated the rhyme about werewolves.  I wouldn’t have believed he was a werewolf, but the film is set in a different time, and in what seems like a fairly superstitious community.  You would think that after they followed wolf tracks from the grave digger’s murder scene back to Larry’s bedroom, they would be a little more open to the idea.  Not too inspiring from law enforcement officers and gamekeepers.  There were an abundance of clues from my point of view.

RATING:  Disappointing.


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