Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Wolf Man

It beats me why anyone would want to watch horror films during the war but horror films there are. In England, production and distribution of horror films were banned for the duration. But in America, Universal Studios churned out a series of great films, building on its successful films of the 1930s (such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy).

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.

1941's The Wolf Man cemented contemporary ideas about werewolves. It wasn't the first werewolf film - that was Universal's own Werewolf of London - but it was the most influential. The atmosphere is great, all ancient buildings, gypsies and mist smoked forests with menacing leafless trees. The werewolf legend presented in the film is not ancient lore - it's all the invention of director Curt Siodmak, a horror movie master, including the bit about werewolves and the moon.

Lon Chaney Jr is a regular guy who gets bitten by a wolf in the woods one night. The wolf is Beal Lugosi (in a sadly brief cameo) - a werewolf. Now Chaney feels a change upon him and is transformed into a savage beast. Chaney does regular guy well and, most effectively, he's tormented by guilt and regret for the things he has done while a werewolf. You certainly feel empathy for his character, with it's troubled soul This role was the making - and breaking - of Chaney. It made him a B grade star and fated him to be typecast forever.

Maria Ouspenskaya, as the gypsy, is fabulous as ever. Claude Rains is Chaney's father, a little improbably, but he does a sterling effort. You'll also find Ralph Bellamy as the police detective investigating the mysterious deaths. And you must credit Jack Pierce's wonderful job at makeup.

A classic. Most enjoyable!

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1 comment:

donnasoowho said...

Hmm, when I was in a production of 'Little Shop of Horrors' at school my character had to say 'he's even sexier than the Wolfman'. I always wondered what that referred to.... although really (after looking at those pictures) I am still wondering...