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The full moon rises and you can hear the howl of a wolf...,
This review is from: The Wolf Man [DVD] (DVD)
"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."
The 1941 version of "The Wolf Man" is one of the most important Universal monster movies that is a classic even if it is not a great film. That is because pretty much the entire mythology of werewolves, from the transformation beneath the full moon and the silver bullets to the appearance of a pentagram that marks the next victim of the werewolf, comes from this film. Consequently, screenwriter Curt Siodmak did for werewolves what Bram Stoker did for vampires, also working to take established folklore and then add a few creative twists.
The story of "The Wolf Man" should be well-known even to those who have yet to see the film. Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), returns to his ancestral home in Wales following the death of his older brother. One night poor Larry is bitten by a wolf during an attack and he soon learns he has inherited the curse of lycanthrope from the gypsy werewolf (Bela Lugosi). Now, whenever the full moonrise, he goes out looking for some throats to rip out. What chance does he now have with the beautiful Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), and whatever will he tell his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Reins?).
"The Wolf Man" is Lon Chaney, Jr.'s signature role mainly because it is one of the few movie monster roles that he originated (although the part was originally intended by Boris Karloff). Chaney was the original and only Larry Talbot, which is rather surprising given how often Universal played musical actors with the guys behind the monster makeup, which, once again, is by Jack Pierce. The film is more atmospheric than bloody, with lots of mist hugging the ground in the dark forest, which reflects both the sensibilities of the time and limitations placed on the genre by the production code. You also have Ralph Bellamy and veteran character actress Maria Ouspenskaya in the supporting cast adding weight to the story and make up for the fact you never really can buy that Reins and Chaney are father and son.
Ultimately, "The Wolf Man" is a monster movie that plays like a Greek tragedy with the monster being as much of an innocent victim as any of the werewolf's prey. Universal's classic version of "Frankenstein" was changed so much from Mary Shelley's novel that it lost the most tragic aspects of that particular story, leaving "The Wolf Man" to claim that particular title. It is that tragic element that you can find in all of the better werewolf movies that have followed this one, from "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "An American Werewolf in London" to "The Howling" and "Wolf."