Directed by George WaggnerProduced by George Waggner
Written by Curt Siodmak
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
Cinematography Joseph Valentine, ASC
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) December 12, 1941
Running time 70 min
“Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.”
Since the new Wolfman movie comes out next month I thought it would be good to have a new look at the original. As a kid this movie really scared me and has since given me a lifelong fear of werewolves. The Wolfman is one of the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s and 40s which also includes Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, but by the time that The Wolfman came along Universal were just about coming to the end of their monster movie cycle, and the films of the 1940s did not have the budgets or quality of their predecessors. That does not mean that it’s a bad film.
This movie is from 1941 and stars Lon Chaney Jr. as the unfortunate Lawrence Talbot, the man who is cursed when he is bitten by a werewolf. Having just watched this film yesterday I would say that it is not so much as horror movie, as there are really no instances of tension, fear or horror, however it does work as a great psychological study of a man who is tormented by the things he will do when the moon is full and he changes into a dreaded werewolf. This is of course Chaney’s signature role and what he is best known for today, although his performance here does echo his earlier role as Lenny in the 1939 Academy Award nominated version of Of Mice And Men, for which Chaney won much critical acclaim.
The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak, a German Jew who fled the Nazi atrocities of the 1930s for America. He is the person responsible for much of the traditions that are today associated with the werewolf legend, such as the transformation at the full moon, the werewolves’ victim being marked by a pentagram and that the only way to kill a werewolf is with silver. According to the excellent documentary that accompanied the DVD, Siodmak wrote The Wolfman as an allegory to the genocide occurring in Europe at the time and how even the nicest of men could become beasts if the conditions were right.
Then there is the performance of Lon Chaney Jr., as Larry Talbot, the man who must carry the terrible curse of the werewolf. His acting seems quite over the top and hammy here but it does add to the fun of the film. The Wolfman became Chaney’s signature role and makes this movie a lot of fun to watch. Jack Pierce’s make up work is great and the transformation scenes are very good considering this film is almost 70 years old. It is an enjoyable film and I only hope the remake is half as much fun.
* Buy The Wolfman from Amazon* (Note this is a region 1 DVD and requires a region free DVD player to be played outside North America)