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The Wolf Man: a review

Submitted by: slave2moonlight

The Wolf Man: a review by slave2moonlight


Hello again, Werewolf Cafe patrons! Slave2moonlight here, back for another overly detailed werewolf movie review! This time, in honor of the Werewolf Cafe’s 2nd Anniversary, I’ve chosen a very special movie to add to the Cafe’s ever growing film encyclopedia, the Queen Mother of all werewolf movies, Universal Studios’ 1941 classic, “The Wolf Man!”

Okay, so “The Wolf Man” wasn’t the first werewolf film ever made. It is still, by far, the most widely known and loved. I mean, what werewolf is more iconic than the one Lon Chaney Jr. made famous? Yes, this review has been a longtime in coming, so sit back and enjoy my take on this American cinema classic!

The film opens in a very interesting way for the modern movie-goer. Immediately following the Universal logo and film title is a run-through of the principal characters. Each one is shown in a scene from the film, but without sound (only the main title music), and with their respective credits. Then, the story begins with a look at an encyclopedia definition of “Lycanthropy,” making reference to the English village and Talbot Castle that are the settings of the film. On to the first actual scene, where we see young Larry Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr., being driven by a chauffer to his family home, Talbot Castle. Larry has returned, after living in America for many years, to take over the family estate after his older brother was killed in a hunting accident. We learn all this when Larry arrives and is greeted by his father, Sir John Talbot, played by the wonderful Claude Rains. Sir John is an amiable fellow, but still a bit stiff and stuck on propriety. Larry is a laid-back, American, “average Joe” type. It’s clear that he left Talbot Castle due to the friction caused by being the younger son, second in-line for everything, but he is happy to be back and among family and friends. The only thing we see of deceased older brother John is a painting hanging above the fireplace which bears an uncanny resemblance to Larry himself.

As father and son happily agree to put the past behind them and settle Larry into his birthright together, two servants catch Sir John’s attention. They are carrying in a crate that holds a new part for Sir John’s telescope, and we soon see Larry and John in the observatory where Larry works to put the piece in place. Impressed by Larry’s skill with his hands, Sir John leaves him alone to finish up. Big mistake! You can’t leave Larry alone with a telescope! Larry is the Wolf-Man, after all! Ha, seriously. First thing Larry does is “accidentally” aim it at a bedroom in the nearby village, one just above Charles Conliffe’s antique shop. Through the window, he discovers Conliffe’s daughter, Gwen, played by the lovely Evelyn Ankers, putting on earrings as she finishes dressing. Naturally, being the wolf that he is, Larry hotfoots it over to the antique shop, and who could blame him? Gwen IS a hottie. If you think the waifish actresses we have nowadays are hot, get a load of 1940s dames! Anyway, Larry enters and commences to put the moves on Gwen, first pretending he is looking for a pair of earrings for a gift. After Gwen shows him what they have in stock, Larry requests the earrings still on her dressing table, describing them accurately enough to freak Gwen out. Gwen suggests that perhaps her father would be more helpful to him, and Larry quickly changes tactics, deciding he is shopping for a cane instead. Gwen pokes fun at Larry, saying the dog-handled cane would suit him best, but he settles on a can with a silver, wolf’s head handle instead. The handle also features a wolf inside a pentagram, which sparks Larry’s curiosity. Gwen proceeds to give Larry a quick lesson on werewolves, as he has no idea what they are. She informs him that the pentagram is the mark of the werewolf, and that he sees it in the palm of his next victim’s hand. At the heart of her brief tutorial is the first recitation of the film’s legendary poem, “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.” Larry gets a kick out of the cane’s side-story and decides to purchase it. He also makes a date to take Gwen out later that evening at eight, though she insists she cannot go out with him. As Larry exits and Gwen follows, the two see a gypsy cart traveling down the street. Larry suggests that they make their date a visit to the gypsy camp for a fortune reading, though Gwen continues to insist that she will not be coming along. Later on, Larry relays the day’s events to his father, Sir John, who is happy to hear that his son is taking an interest in the townsfolk, and who also seems to know the little poem about werewolves that Gwen recited earlier. Werewolves are very popular around Talbot Castle!

So, 8 o’clock comes around, as it always does, and Larry shows up outside the antique shop for his would-be date. Gwen is there too, waiting for him, though she still insists that she can’t go. Sure, that’s why she brought a chaperone along. Oh, yes, she brought a friend to make sure there was no funny business. You know how hot girls usually have unattractive best-friends around to ruin everything? Well, Gwen Conliffe has Jenny Williams. The three set off together, laughing about the situation as if they were off to see the wizard. As they walk through the eerie woods, Jenny brings up the old werewolf poem again. Clearly, the girls in this village have a werewolf fetish...hmm... When they find the old gypsy cart, Jenny asks to be the first, and Larry and Gwen are only too happy to allow it. Inside, the mysterious and off-putting Bela (the legendary Bela Lugosi) begins to read Jenny’s fortune, but clearly he is having health problems. Jenny is disturbed when she notices the pentagram shaped scar on Bela’s forehead. Meanwhile, outside and already a distance away, Larry fills Gwen in on how he knew about her earrings, almost getting himself into trouble, but not much. People took things like that better in those days, ha. In return, Gwen enlightens Larry as to why she has been so resistant to him. It seems that she is already engaged to the Talbot Estate’s gamekeeper, Frank Andrews. Well, this doesn’t stop the two from giving each other goo-goo eyes, but they are interrupted when a panicked Jenny sends out a scream in the night as she is attacked by a wolf while fleeing Bela’s gypsy cart. Larry rushes to Jenny’s aid but is too late to save her. He does, however, manage to kill the wolf that attacked her by beating it to death with the silver handle of his cane. Unfortunately, not before being bit by the beast himself!

Back at the castle, Sir John is conversing with Captain Paul Montford, the obnoxious chief constable of the area and childhood friend to Larry. They are both startled when Larry is brought into the room a complete wreck. Paul and his men head out to the location of the attack to do a full investigation, squeamish assistant Victor Twiddle, one of the only “English” people in the film that actually has an English accent, takes notes and provides comic relief to the murder scenes. They inspect the body of Miss Jenny Williams, and they also make a discovery of their own. There’s no dead wolf to be found, but they do find the bludgeoned body of Bela the gypsy!

Everyone figures that Larry must have gotten confused in the fog and excitement, accidentally beating Bela to death instead of the wolf. Larry is certain that it was a wolf he killed though, and is greatly distressed by everyone doubting his mental condition! He is sent off to bed, only awakening to find matters worse, as his one bit of proof that a wolf was involved, the bite on his chest (strange place for a bite), seems to have disappeared. He decides to check on Gwen and visits the antique shop, but inside he finds Jenny’s mother and her cohorts giving Gwen and her father a good tongue lashing. Jenny’s mother seems to be channeling Margaret Hamilton here. The old women get the worse end of it though, and Larry, being the bad-ass that he is, chases them right off when he shows up! Hooray for Larry! Just as he is having a moment to talk to Gwen though, her fiance shows up, dog in tow. Frank’s dog takes an immediate disliking to Larry, and he has to be removed from the room. Gwen then attempts to introduce Larry to Frank, but Frank is in a daze over Larry’s cane. This makes Larry uncomfortable, naturally, and he makes his exit. When he later sees Bela’s mother, the gypsy woman Maleva, in town on matters of her son’s death. He follows her, listening in on her words over her son’s dead body, “The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Your suffering is over, Bela my son. Now, you will find peace.”

Carnival time! Everyone is out to enjoy the gypsy carnival, and Larry is no exception. He runs into Gwen and Frank and is urged into playing a shooting gallery game with gamekeeper. As Sir John and Paul the cop watch from a distance, Larry seems to be doing fine, perhaps getting a handle on his mental state. Then, a wolf target pops up and the image sends a panic into Larry, causing him to miss. Frustrated, he runs off and passes old Maleva’s tent. The gypsy lures him in and gives him some terrifying news. Bela was a werewolf killed by the only thing that can kill a werewolf, silver. Larry was bitten by Bela. “Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.” Larry is horrified by her words! She forces him to take a charm to protect him, and he does, but only gives it to Gwen moments later when he sees her outside. Gwen is the only one able to calm Larry down. He tells her what the gypsy woman said. Of course, Gwen doesn’t believe in werewolves. Seeing that Gwen is alone and may not be for long, Larry attempts to kiss her, and he manages to for a bit, until the gypsies create an uproar throughout the camp. Maleva has spread the warning that there is a werewolf around, and they aren’t sticking around to find out who it is! Gwen decides it’s time for her to go too, leaving Larry there in a very confused state. He heads back home to the castle, worried and unwell. Alone with his thoughts, a strange feeling comes over Larry. He checks his legs, which seem harrier than normal. He panics, and rightly so. Larry’s feet soon transform into wolf feet. Scrolling upward, Larry has transformed completely into a wolf-man!

In his werewolf form, Larry prowls the night in search of victims. He finds and kills Richardson, the poor gravedigger. Upon turning human again in his own room, Larry rubs out the muddy wolf-prints leading in from the open window. When word of Richardson’s death spreads, Larry is aware that it was his fault. Rumors are spreading throughout the village about Larry, even outside the church on Sunday morning. They think it strange that there were no murders in the sleepy little village until Lawrence Talbot showed up. When Larry and Sir John try to attend weekly services, the unfriendly stares of the townspeople send Larry back out the door. Paul Montford has a good laugh at Talbot Castle when Larry enters the room and tells everyone that a werewolf is responsible for the murders of Jenny and Richardson. Doctor Lloyd thinks Larry needs more rest, Sir John thinks he needs to face his fears, and Frank is just concerned with setting traps for what they feel must be a real wolf after finding tracks at the scenes of the murders. As the men go out in a hunting and trapping party, Larry transforms into a wolf again, this time getting caught in a painful looking trap. As he apparently passes out or goes into shock from the pain, the old gypsy Maleva finds the werewolf laying on the ground and says her chant over him. Temporarily, Larry is human again. He sets himself free, eludes the hunting party, and makes his way to Gwen’s place. Waking Gwen up from her sleep, he tells her, in a frantic state, that he is a murdering werewolf and is leaving the village. Gwen is filled with concern for Larry and insists on running away with him. She even tells her father she is going with Larry when he comes downstairs. Larry has seen the pentagram on her hand though, and knows he must get as far away from Gwen as possible! He runs out of the Antique shop and back to Talbot Castle. As Larry attempts to leave for good, his father stops him. Sir John demands that Larry faces his problem tonight, head-on, and so he straps Larry into a chair in his bedroom, bolts the door, and locks the window. Sir John then goes off to join the hunting party, taking with him the silver handled cane at Larry’s insistence. Naturally, Larry transforms once more, and the ropes that hold him down have little effect. Larry is soon on the prowl again as the wolf man, and Gwen, wandering through the woods in search of him, is now in more danger than ever!

Maleva the gypsy finds Sir John and warns him to return home and tend to his werewolf son, but Sir John only becomes angry at the woman for infecting Larry with her superstitions. Maleva also discovers Gwen and gives her a warning too, but everyone is put off by her werewolf talk. Still, just as Maleva warned, the Wolf Man soon finds Gwen, and, just as he prepares to tear her up the way he did Jenny, his father comes to the rescue! Sir John gives his son the same treatment Larry gave Bela, beating him to death with the silver handle of his cane. As Maleva performs her magic chant one last time, Larry turns human just before everyone finds him lying in the heavy mist. Paul declares that Larry must have been trying to rescue Gwen and gotten killed in the process, just as Bela had, but Sir John finally knows better.

A masterpiece and one of the classic “big three” of Universal horror, “The Wolf Man” is a must see film, especially for anyone perusing THIS website! Half hero, half villain, Lon Chaney Jr. turns in a performance to make his poppa proud! The makeup effects and attention to detail are phenomenal too. The Wolf Man even walks with his heels off the ground! Sure, he’s fully dressed, but he still strikes a more imposing figure than you might think! That face is totally wild! There’s great chemistry between Lon and the lovely Evelyn Ankers, and the writing throughout the film is pure poetry. Claude Rains and Maria Ouspenskaya are unforgettable in their supporting roles too! A triumph in mood and style, an achievement of paranoia and fear, a study on dual identity, a film that has inspired countless werewolf films since and several sequels of its own, “The Wolf Man” is still one of the best werewolf films ever made, and it’s 65 years old! Props to Universal Studios and director George Waggner for that enormous achievement! Available on DVD in various forms and on VHS, I recommend the “Wolf Man Legacy Collection” 2-disc DVD set to the real werewolf fanatics out there. It also includes the sequel, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” along with “Werewolf of London,” “She-Wolf of London,” and a handful of fun bonus features. Pick it up ASAP!

Okay, readers, that’s all for now! Happy viewing, and check out me, slave2moonlight, on “My Space!”

"Death Walks the Streets"

Submitted by: Full Moon

A big thank you goes out to James Zahn (Director/Co-writer) and Ben Brezinski (Co-writer) for this autographed promotional card for their upcoming movie titled "Death Walks the Streets." We want to mention that there are websites at and at for this film. Thank you James and Ben!

Death Walks the Streets Front

Death Walks the Streets Back