The introduction of The Wolf Man would mark the last of the iconic stable monsters to come out of Universal studios during its golden age of horror. Along with it comes arguably one of the production houses’ most tragic characters in Larry Talbot. Talbot’s heartfelt sorrow is all the more pained due to his magnificent portrayal by Lon Chaney Jr, who after impressing in Man-Made Monster finally got to take on a lead-role as the doomed hero.
In many ways the feature would serve as a signature to the passing of the torch from the old to the new with Chaney Jr ably supported by Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) as Larry’s father Sir John, and Bela Lugosi (Dracula) as Bela the Gypsy. The latter is all the more on the snout as Bela harbours the secret of being a lycanthrope and literally bites Talbot, transforming him and turning him into the monster.
The strength of the cast doesn’t end there though, and this is part of the beauty of this film and why quite honestly, it still resonates today. With Ralph Bellamy (Rosemary’s Baby), Patric Knowles (Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man), Evelyn Ankers (The Ghost of Frankenstein), but none more striking than Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva, The Gypsy Fortune Teller.
Her role would lend significant weight and drama to Talbot’s plight and add a dash of the mysticism behind the mythology. She would reprise her role once more in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
Curt Siodmak would return once more as the screenwriter, in arguably his finest work, which is partly to do with him drawing from his own tragic history of segregation and oppressed Jew under the Nazi regime, a topic that doesn’t get lost in the narrative as Bela and Larry are both marked by the pentagram as part of their curse.
In this story, Talbot returns to his ancestral home to reunite with his estranged father.
Whilst there, he becomes infatuated with a local girl, Gwen, only to succumb to a wolf attack.
At first, Talbot believes that his plight is all too real, but when he heals so swiftly, he starts to question his own sanity, before the physical changes begin to occur.
From here, he withdraws from the world, not knowing who to turn to, afraid of what he might do.
Now that mythology is the stuff of legend, and many have transpired to go above and beyond where it all began with numerous tales of the shapeshifting beast.
The effects have come in leaps and bounds since this film, but a huge nod must go out to make up guru Jack Pierce who would produce the now infamous look from his own personal kit, including yak hair that was glued to Chaney Jr’s face in a laborious procedure.
The Wolf Man would go on to feature in a further four sequels, all featuring Chaney Jr (the only actor to play the role), which is part of its appeal, and one of the key characteristics of Talbot is his ‘nice guy’ personality that is conflicted with this plague.
The film is iconic and despite being nearly 80 years old, is still solid.
A testament to the talent involved in its creation and Siodmak’s screenplay. As my journey through the Universal horror archive, this was a welcome shift in the positive direction.
- Saul Muerte