The Wolf Man (1941) is the definitive take on a man cursed to become a werewolf. All it took was 6 years after Werewolf of London failed to make an impression. Despite releasing a decade later, The Wolf Man is a Universal monster movie on par with Dracula or Frankenstein. They’re the big three that every horror fan should watch. Similar to The Mummy, The Wolf Man is an original story based in folklore. It was a good change of pace for the studio after so many sequels.
Much like vampires, I’ve always considered myself to be a werewolf expert as well. Once bitten by a werewolf, an individual will be cursed to transform by the light of a full moon. The Wolf Man is exclusive to Universal, but his story has inspired countless werewolf movies, TV shows, and novels. My mom is a big Wolf Man fan who encouraged my brother and I to watch the 1941 classic when we were kids. The Wolf Man has been my second favorite Universal monster movie ever since…
The Wolf Man (1941) understands the tragic supernatural nature of lycanthropy better than any werewolf movie. Werewolf of London was too scientific and didn’t give its protagonist enough bite. Lon Chaney Jr. follows in his father’s paw prints to create the most sympathetic werewolf victim of all time. Larry Talbot is an everyday man with a wealthy background. The prodigal son returns to his home in Wales after the death of his brother. The Invisible Man himself Claude Rains plays Larry’s estranged father Sir John Talbot. They attempt to reconcile their relationship throughout the movie. A mutual interest in astronomy leads Larry to spy on a beautiful shop girl. Larry drops by her antique store just to talk to her. Evelyn Ankers is much more well rounded as love interest Gwen Conliffe. Like everyone else in town, Gwen knows everything there is to know about werewolves.
The Wolf Man is fully steeped in the legend from beginning to end. Many characters recite the fictional poem: “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfsbanes blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” The movie establishes a connection to wolfsbane, but it isn’t an explicit weakness. The only werewolf weakness is silver. Larry purchases a neat looking walking cane with a silver handle in the shape of a wolf. Pentagrams are also a symbol for werewolves that foretell their next victim. Despite having a fiancée, Gwen agrees to go out with Larry and her friend Jenny. Director George Waggner takes full advantage of the black & white setting. The forest filled with fog is just as iconic as the spooky castles from Dracula and Frankenstein.
They visit a band of gypsies to get their fortunes told. Bela Lugosi need only use his first name as the gypsy Bela. After Count Dracula and Ygor, Lugosi became the werewolf who bites Larry after attacking Jenny. Larry is accused of murder and insanity when the police start an investigation. Even his own father starts to doubt him. Warren William evaluates Larry as Dr. Lloyd and Gwen’s fiancée Paul played by Ralph Bellamy leads a hunt. The only person who can help Larry is old Romani gypsy woman Maleva. Maria Ouspenskaya makes the strongest impression by reciting a blessing that eases a werewolves suffering. She tries to help by giving Larry a protective charm, but it’s not enough to stop the full moon.
The Wolf Man’s transformation into a werewolf is far more iconic with makeup that artist Jack Pierce intended for Werewolf of London. Larry is both man and wolf with a body covered in yak hair, sharp teeth, and a small snout. His primary outfit is a dark jumpsuit. Chaney fully commits to the animalistic monster by walking on his hind legs. As the Wolf Man strikes, Larry becomes consumed with guilt. Villagers hunt the werewolf while Larry attempts to keep himself from hurting what he loves most. Gwen is his next victim, but Larry manages to reconcile with his father who reluctantly uses his son’s cane against him. Maleva eases Larry’s suffering just as she did with her own son. It’s a tragic ending, but one that most werewolves desire. The Wolf Man effectively bridged the gap between man and monster.
Followed by: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man