Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) has been living in America, but when his brother passes away he returns to his ancestral home in Wales. He hopes to reconnect with his father, who he has had a strained relationship with.
While in Wales, Larry takes an interest in Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), a local girl who works at an antique shop. He meets her when he buys a walking stick decorated with a silver wolf head from the shop. Gwen tells Larry that the walking stick contains symbols of the werewolf.
When Larry encounters a wolf in the woods, he kills the wolf with his walking stick and is bitten.
He then discovers from a gypsy (Maria Ouspenskaya) that he didn’t attack a wolf at all, but a werewolf that was actually her son Bela (Bela Lugosi) – and that since he was bitten, he’ll be transformed into a werewolf as well.
George Waggner directs 1941’s The Wolf Man, written by the brilliant Curt Siodmak, who is responsible for many of the myths of werewolves that continue to be told – the significance of full moons and silver bullets, for example.
(Sidenote: Apparently the “scientific” term for werewolfism is lycanthropy. The more you know…)
Alongside the players listed above, the top-notch cast also includes Claude Rains (as Larry’s father), Warren William (as a local doctor) and Ralph Bellamy (as Col. Montford). The film is full of great people and all of them give good performances, making it difficult to choose a standout.
The Wolf Man is also full of wonderful mood-building. Heavy shadows, wonderful music and near-constant fog give the setting a definite creep factor, and in combination with the great performances sets the perfect tone for all of the action.
Fantastic cast and atmosphere aside, this is a pretty typical Universal monster film. There’s a bit of cheesiness to it, increased by the aged special effects. Many of the same players are used as in other Universal horrors. There’s also a great mystery element, with the entire group (with the exception of Larry, who is the wolf) trying to figure out what kind of creature is terrorizing the town. The film fits well into the category of truly “classic” 20th century horror.
Period of high excitement and slower drama keep the film interesting without exhausting the viewer or losing their interest. The final ten minutes of the film have particularly fantastic tension between Claude Rains and Lon Chaney, Jr.
There’s also a really wonderful and quite morbid fight scene at the end of the film, but this isn’t my favorite scene. The double exposure montage right after it is discovered that “there’s a werewolf in camp!” takes the cake for me.
The Wolf Man is a highly enjoyable piece of work, recommended for fans of mid-20th century horror and particularly Universal’s dream team of horror players. The score: 4.5/5
Images are credited to Dr. Macro’s High Quality Movie Scans!