Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
Plot: Larry Talbot returns home to Wales after being abroad in America when he learns of his brother’s death. After reconciling with his estranged father, he becomes enamoured with a young woman named Gwen Conliffe who runs a local antique shop with her father. However, tragedy strikes one autumn night when he is bitten by a wolf that leaves him with an unwanted curse which turns him into a vicious werewolf by night.
“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.”The Wolf Man, 1941
Review: The Wolf Man has what I always considered to be a melancholy and tragic plot. The main character Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) is an innocent man bitten by a wolf, who then succumbs to the curse of lycanthropy. The film doesn’t make use of the idea that a werewolf is transformed under a full moon, though, and the poem that is recited several times during the film implies that it happens when the wolfbane blooms in autumn.
Chaney is a hulking 6ft 3 inches and 225 lbs., making him the tallest of the Universal Monsters. His physical attributes make him an extremely commanding screen presence as he towers above the rest of the cast. His character plays the role of a prodigal son returning home due to tragic circumstances —the passing of his brother.
The death of his brother is not fully explored in this film unlike the 2010 version starring Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot. The topic only comes up in conversation between father and son when Larry glances at an extremely large portrait of his now deceased brother. The conversation ends with a proper reconciliation between Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains, star of The Invisible Man, 1933) and his son. Afterwards their relationship settles into an ease, indicating that it was not quite as toxic as the one depicted in the 2010 version in which Sir Anthony Hopkins played the role of the senior Talbot.
Having spent so much of his young life in America, Larry has a different personality that stands out against the proper upper class British etiquette. It is especially noticeable in the manner in which he spoke, including the occasional use of American slang, and the flirtatious way in which he approached Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) in her shop.
Which brings me to another point, and that is the excellent onscreen chemistry between Ankers and Chaney. Ankers has a fair bit of screen time and suffice it to say the two make an excellent couple. The circumstances that follow after Larry was bitten makes the story turn into a horror-infused one with a tragically doomed romance. Larry becomes a guilt-ridden, tortured man as he slowly becomes convinced that he is a monster.
The impressive makeup by Jack Pierce and the transformation special effects by John P. Fulton took many torturous hours to complete and apparently involved an obscene amount of yak hair and a pair of extremely uncomfortable boots made out of hard rubber to become the huge paws. Fun fact: Did you know that Lon Chaney Jr.’s father starred in Universal’s 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera. The two roles have forever immortalised father and son in cinema history. And The Wolf Man was also the only Universal Monster to be played by the same actor in all four of the 1940’s sequels.
The film is not without its flaws because it threaded a bit of an inconsistent line. Another horror stalwart Bela Lugosi plays a minor role as the werewolf that infects Chaney Jr. with the lycanthropic curse. However, it is a real wolf that attacks Larry and not a man-wolf hybrid that he turns into. And the film also contradicted its definition of Lycanthropy in that it is a delusion of the mind, laying the groundwork for quite a lot of ambiguity to the story being told. Lycanthropy is inspired by the European myths of werewolves as creatures that are voluntary shape shifters and may sometimes even be evil sorcerers.
But despite its flaws The Wolf Man has become a classic monster that lives on in the imagination and became the inspiration for many films and novels. It is listed in the film reference book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” which stated that the film “still remains the most recognizable and most cherished version of the werewolf myth.”
Alice’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
For Part 5 of my Universal Horror Monsters Retrospective and my review of The Invisible Man you can click here.
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.
I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.