Thursday, October 21, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Wolf Man” (1941)

  You didn’t think I wouldn’t go back to the Universal Monster movies this October, did you? I began the month with earlier Universal monster classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and his Bride; and now I watch my last official one of the project, with the star studded “The Wolf Man.” The film has a cast that reads like a who’s who of Universal Monster Movie stars. It of course has Lon Chaney Jr as the title role, but rounding out the cast in supporting roles are Bela Lugosi himself as the first Romani werewolf who passes down the curse, and also the Invisible Man himself Claude Rains as Chaney’s protective father. 

While all of the Universal movies have a special place in my haunted heart, this film is one of my favorites. That is true for many fans, and it is clear to see why. This is a tightly paced, involving and very watchable film with the terse runtime that most of the Universal films have. Coming in at under an hour and a half, it is easy to get drawn into Larry Talbot’s return to this small home town, and fall under the curse he falls into when he takes Gwen and her friend to have their fortunes told by Bela in the woods. Watching this again this year, the main thing that struck me was the romantic subplot with Gwen. Larry’s overtures to the engaged Gwen seem brazen and inappropriate by what is acceptable today, but while it would be easy to dismiss these as a product of their times, when judging the whole film, one can see that the discomfort was intended--- as everything that seems dangerous about Larry turns out to be true. Gwen’s attraction to him reads more like the complicated notes that horror characters like the Phantom of the Opera and Christine have, and their courtship is so complicated and so interesting.

 Chaney’s presence in and out of the wolfman makeup—which he wears only briefly in the film—help carry the film into horror history, and it is always a delight to watch. The supporting performances are great, as well—and how could they not be? An actor of Claude Rains talents brings so much depth to the family dynamics with Larry and his father, and while only in the film for a few scenes, Bela Lugosi as the Romani fortune teller Bela has his signature intoxicating presence as his Count Dracula—but with a fully formed and fleshed out character all his own. There is also so much atmosphere in here, with the Talbot manor, woods and Romani camps. “The Wolf Man” is, as every year, absolutely essential October viewing.




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