This is the film that put second-generation horror film actor Lon Chaney Jr. on the map in the role that he would be forever known for.
After learning his brother has died, Lawrence Talbot has returned home in Llanwelly, Wells to make amends with his estranged father. At first, there is still that tension between father and son, but all seems civil. Going to an antique shop, Larry meets the shop’s owner, Gwen Conliffe, and takes a liking to her. He purchases a silver-headed walking stick with a wolf, in which Gwen mentions it represents a werewolf. Meanwhile, Jenny, Gwen’s best friend, has an encounter with a Gypsy named Bela but as she walks into the night, she is attacked by a beast. Larry attempts to save Jenny and is bitten in the process before he successfully kills the beast.
However, Larry’s life is about to change. Meeting a fortune teller named Maleva, she tells him that the beast he killed was in fact Bela, her son, who changed into a wolf. Maleva warns him that on the night of the full moon, Larry will become a werewolf. At first, Larry is extremely skeptical but then on the night of the full moon, he transforms into a werewolf. As he begins killing, Larry realizes that he is going to be hunted down and does whatever he can to stop himself. However, will it be too late when Larry once again becomes the Wolf Man?
Following in the footsteps of the famous 1930’s hits Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal decided to unleash their first major werewolf film and it is a beloved horror classic. The film is based on the legend of a man turning into a werewolf through a bite from another wolf. In an interesting twist to the tale, both Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster themselves, both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, were in consideration to play the Wolf Man. However, only Lugosi would appear in the film in a brief cameo as the film’s first werewolf who sets up the story of our tragic hero, Larry Talbot.
The driving force of the film is the legendary Lon Chaney Jr., who became immortalized with the role of Larry Talbot, who becomes the Wolf Man. Clearly, this is a man who has enough trouble in his life. He struggles to maintain a relationship with his father, played by Claude Rains, and the matter of him now turning into a werewolf truly makes things worse for him. His only escape from his struggles is the woman he falls in love with, Gwen, played by Evelyn Ankers. Kudos also must go out to Maria Ouspenskaya as the mysterious Gypsy who warns Larry of his affliction with lycanthropy.
The make-up effects of the film, notably of the Wolf Man himself, is far beyond impressive. Jack Pierce, who was responsible for creating the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster in the 1930’s Universal classics, had originally intended to use the particular look for another Universal werewolf film, Werewolf of London, in 1935. However, when lead actor Henry Hull complained that the make-up would overshadow his face as well as Universal fearing risk of censorship, Pierce saved the design for this very film and quite frankly, it does look better on Chaney. The stop motion transformation sequences are well done as well and would serve as a precursor for many iconic transformations in later films.
The Wolf Man is a definitive werewolf classic that would have Lon Chaney Jr. become an iconic figure in the footsteps of his father. Chaney would go on to play the character in five more Universal Films, including a comedy starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This is the one that started it all.
WFG RATING: A+
A Universal Pictures production. Director: George Waggner. Producer: George Waggner. Writer: Curt Siodmak. Cinematography: Joseph Valentine. Editing: Ted Kent.
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Evelyn Ankers, J.M. Kerrigan, Fay Helm, Forrester Harvey.