Review of “The Wolf Man” (1941)

from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night. And Svengoolie! A classic. A howler. And the pizza wasn’t too bad, either.

Plot:

After the death of his older brother, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) returns from America to Wales to see his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). While helping his father install parts of a telescope—Larry has done some work on Mt. Wilson in California—he starts playing with the scope. He looks into the bedroom window of a comely local girl, Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers). So he’s a Peeping Tom before he’s a werewolf.

He notes the shop she lives above and goes in to meet her. He ends up buying a cane topped by a silver wolf’s head marked with a pentagram, even if he balks at the price. He offers to take her for a walk when she closes up shop at eight, even though she keeps up a steady chorus of, “No.” (Geez, she’s able to close up shop at eight?)

Larry shows up. So he’s a Peeping Tom and now a stalker? Maybe becoming a werewolf wasn’t be all that much of a change. But he’s in for a surprise. Gwen has a friend, Jenny Williams (Fay Helm). The three of them go to the gypsy carnival to have their fortunes told.

Jenny goes first, while Larry and Gwen for a walk. In the fog. Facing Jenny, Bela (Bela Lugosi), sees a pentagram in her palm. He begins to panic and says he can tell her nothing. She must leave and come back the next day. She flees.

Larry and Gwen hear a howl and then a woman’s scream. Larry goes to help Jenny. That silver wolf’s head makes a handy werewolf whacker. Just the same, he’s bitten in the struggle.

The next morning, he wakes up in his bed at Talbot Hall, with the authorities coming in. They ask if the cane they hold up is his.

“Sure,” Larry says. “I used it to kill a wolf last night.”

It was found next to the body of Bela the gypsy…

Uh-oh.

Thoughts:

While there were several werewolf movies before this one—even a couple before the talkies—this is the first biggie, the one that defined movie werewolves for a long time. Tall guy Lon Chaney, Jr. prowled around in the fog on the balls of his now hairy feet, growling looking for some innocent prey, ‘cuz, as we’re told several times in this movie:

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.


Even the most cynical viewer can’t help feel sorry for Larry. He’s lost his brother. He’s been on the outs with his dad for eighteen years, making his own way in the world, working with his hands. Now he’s making up with the old man. He’s acting pushy (to say the least) with Gwen, only to find out she’s engaged. When he does, he steps back and remains friendly with everyone. The lucky man’s dog doesn’t care for him, but that’s out of his control at that point. He gets his foot caught in a bear trap.

He is at first reluctant to believe the werewolf lore, even when a pretty girl tells him about it but comes to grips with the terrible things he’s committed and is willing to bear the consequences.

The gore is minimal to non-existent. Most of the handful of attacks that occur in the film take place behind trees in the dark, more suggestive of violence than actually portraying it.

Much of the movie is so serious that it is ripe for parody—particularly the pronouncements of the medical/scientific experts, who see lycanthropy as a manifestation of the dual nature of human beings, not mention all the things the wise old gypsy woman has to say. Nevertheless, this is fun.




Title: The Wolf Man (1941)

Directed by
George Waggner

Writing Credits
Curt Siodmak … (original screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Lon Chaney Jr … Larry Talbot – The Wolf Man (as Lon Chaney)
Claude Rains … Sir John Talbot
Warren William … Dr. Lloyd
Ralph Bellamy … Colonel Paul Montford
Patric Knowles … Frank Andrews
Bela Lugosi … Bela
Maria Ouspenskaya … Maleva

Released: December 12, 1941
Length: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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