The Wolf Man (1941)

wolf man poster 1941 movie lon chaney jr
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Classic werewolf movie


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Wolf Man

Studio: Universal Pictures

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): December 12, 1941

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

wolf man larry talbot make-up werewolf lon chaney jr 1941

It’s Friday night, a full moon…I’m going out werewolfing!

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) has come home to see his father (Claude Rains) after the death of his brother and meets a local girl named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers).  When Larry and Gwen attend a local carnival of gypsies, Larry is bitten by a wolf…Larry kills the wolf who is revealed to be a gypsy named Bela (Bela Lugosi).  Against warnings the warnings of a gypsy named Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), Larry denies the change that is coming over him…and it could cost the lives of those around him.

Directed by George Waggner, The Wolf Man was Universal’s second attempt to make a werewolf movie after The Werewolf of London in 1935.  The film started a franchise and unlike other Universal monsters, Lon Chaney, Jr. portrayed the character throughout the series.

The Wolf Man was my monster growing up.  The imagery of the film was what scared me as a child, and I can remember staying up late to watch the original movie with poor reception and a flickering image…which led to the Wolf Man moving under my bed as a kid and threatening to grab my feet when I got up at night.

wolf man gypsy maria ouspenskaya lon chaney jr 1941

“You say I’m a werewolf, gypsy lady? Ok, cash me outside…howbow dah?!?!”

The reason that the Wolf Man was scary is that the Wolf Man was innocent.  Frankenstein built his monster, Dracula chose to keep drinking blood, and the Mummy hunted his victims as part of the curse.  The Wolf Man was a nice guy who ran into problems through no fault of his own (actually being a good guy trying to protect someone).  The infection nature of the lycanthropy is scary and makes for a good story.  The father/son aspect of the story also adds a nice dimension to the horror film which at the time sometimes had plots that were lacking.

Lon Chaney, Jr. is great in the movie, but horribly cast.  How he is supposed to be the son of English actor Claude Rains isn’t really understandable…he doesn’t look like him, doesn’t sound like him.  I guess it could happen, but it seems like a bit of a stretch.  Still, Lon Chaney, Jr. works well as the Wolf Man prowling through the perfectly lit woods while hunting his prey.  His tip-toe walking and snarling got me as a kid.  Another great player in the Wolf Man saga is Maria Ouspenskaya as the mother of Bela Lugosi and the wolf that transformed Talbot.  She plays the perfect old gypsy.  A stereotype?  Yes, but at this time, everyone in movies was pretty much a stereotype.

wolf man attacks gwen lon chaney jr evelyn ankers 1941

Lon Chaney, Jr. really knows how to slay the ladies!

The special effects are also a showcase for the film.  The process that Chaney went through to transform into the Wolf Man is legendary among Hollywood storytellers, and the look of the character combines with the great atmospheric set of the woods that the Wolf Man prowls.  Another favorite moment of mine is that when Lon Chaney, Jr. actually transforms into the werewolf, he’s wearing an undershirt…when he goes out as the Wolf Man, he has a regular shirt on…I guess the Wolf Man felt it was better to cover up in case he caught a chill.

The ending is tragic Larry Talbot though the ending of course was all negated by the Wolf Man’s later appearances in the franchise.  The Wolf Man was incredibly influential on future werewolf movies.  It is referenced repeatedly in the ’80s classics The Howling and An American Werewolf in London.  A recent remake starring Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro bombed and another relaunch is in planning.  It also contains one of the most memorial made up poems in film history “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 classic line from a classic movie.  The Wolf Man was followed by Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943.

Related Links:

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Dracula (1945)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The Wolfman (2010)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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