Dec 081941
five reels

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) is called back to his ancestral home by his father (Claude Rains) after the accidental death of his brother. They’ve had a strained relationship, but now as the heir to the estate he tries to fit in to the conservative setting, but his playboy ways leads him to ask out the village beauty, Gwen (Evelyn Ankers). Their date takes them to a gypsy camp, led by Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) and her son, Bela (Bela Lugosi). Their palm readings suggest tragedy, and Larry is soon after attacked and bitten by a wolf. When several locals are killed by animal attacks, Larry believes he has a become a werewolf, an idea that his father will not accept.

Quick Review: My favorite of the Universal creature features of the ’30s and ’40s and THE werewolf film, the story suffers only from being too brief.  Lon Chaney Jr. plays an everyman, clever but not too clever, impetuous, emotional, and a little noble, who finds himself out of place back on his father’s estate.  Sir John Talbot, played by Claude Rains, perhaps the most underrated actor of all time, is a good man, like his son, but is too proud and set in his ways.  This is a setup for tragedy in the best of circumstances.  Add in a too rapid romance and a werewolf, and The Wolf Man becomes an emotional ride.  Scriptwriter Curt Siodmak used the werewolf as a metaphor for Nazi Germany, which he experienced first hand—otherwise good people became monsters and the world no longer made sense.

There are few deaths, but unlike in most modern horror films, each is important and felt.  The rest of the supporting cast is excellent (Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, Evelyn Ankers), and the atmospheric music was used again and again in later films.  Made as a B-film, a tight meaningful script, superb performances, and precise directing put it well into “A” territory.
Lon Chaney (he dumped the “.Jr” in later years) returned three times as Larry Talbot: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943), and House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945).

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