#301 The Wolf Man

(1941, George Waggner)

“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”

I was sitting in my big leather armchair wondering what it would be like to be a werewolf. Then I realised it probably wasn’t that good an idea and I decided to watch a movie about a werewolf instead. And why not start with the werewolf movie that started them all, The Wolf Man, one of the classic Universal monster movies?

It’s 1934, and Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) has heard about the death of his brother and returns to his ancestral home in Wales to reconcile with his estranged father, John (Claude Rains). While there, he takes an interest in antiques dealer Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), and purchases a walking stick with a silver wolf head, supposedly representing a werewolf, a local legend. When Larry is attacked in the woods by a wolf, he manages to kill it using the cane, but ends up bitten in the process. I’ll let you figure out the rest.

The Wolf Man may be a classic, but it’s definitely on the b-movie end of things. The first indication of this comes fairly early on when it becomes apparent that the movie is intent on drumming the werewolf legend into your head at every point. It does this by insistently repeating a poem about wolfbane that’s supposedly a local legend, pretty much to the point of tedium. Every character offhandedly tells Larry the poem, who seems amazed by it every single time, while I began to groan every time someone started saying it.

Of course, not much of the film’s other dialogue is much better. From comments about a pentagram-shaped scar being nothing because “that scar could have been made by any animal” (are you sure?) to some incredibly awkward flirting, this movie isn’t going to win any awards for writing. The flirting especially annoys me because it results in a forced love story that doesn’t make any sense and starts by Larry spying on Gwen with his dad’s telescope and then casually dropping personal information about her into their first conversation based on this. This is more terrifying than the movie’s actual horror!

The acting isn’t much better. For the most part, everyone is either phoning it in or seems to not care. The only actor who seems to be putting some degree of effort in is Claude Rains, which makes John Talbot the best character in the whole movie because he’s the only person who feels believable. Of course, this doesn’t make his relationship to Larry believable, because there is no way to think these two actors share any genes because they’re so vastly different in terms of body type and demeanour.

But of course, no one comes into a werewolf movie expecting a deep story and believable characters, we come to watch horrific transformations and see people get attacked by hairy men. How does it do on that front?

Well, it does…okay. It’s kind of a fun watch once the transformations start happening, but marred by some dated effects and makeup that make the “wolf” man look more like a man with an unfortunate medical condition. The first transformation we see is also a major letdown, as Larry’s feet calmly fade to a pair of fuzzy slippers which then walk out of a door.

But it has charm. At least it has that going for it. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a creaky old Universal horror movie from the 40s. It’s there for silly entertainment as you watch a man in questionable monster makeup stalk around.

So, The Wolf Man. Not great, but charming and entertaining enough.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patrick Knowles & Bela Lugosi
Written by Curt Siodmak
Produced by George Waggner
Cinematography by Joseph Valentine
Edited by Ted J. Kent

Favourite Scene: The wolf attack in the woods is pretty exciting.
Scene That Bugged Me: That pentagram scar line. Not many animals would make a scar that shape. Just saying.

Watch it if: You like creaky old monster movies
Avoid it if: You like nuanced art pieces with complex plots

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Posted on August 21, 2014, in 1940s, Action, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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