“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.”
Upon returning to his ancestral home in Wales, the estranged son (Lon Chaney, Jr.) of a local nobleman (Claude Rains) visits a gypsy camp with a beautiful young woman (Evelyn Ankers) and her friend Jenny (Fay Helm). When Jenny is attacked by a wolf, Chaney comes to her rescue and is bitten; soon he starts to suspect that he may have been bitten by a werewolf, and fears that he will begin harming others.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Bela Lugosi Films
- Claude Rains Films
- Lon Chaney, Jr. Films
- Ralph Bellamy Films
- Warren William Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary heaps enormous praise upon this beloved Universal horror flick, referring to it as both “intelligent” and “literate”, and noting that it provides an effective variation on not only the “within-every-man-there-is-a-beast” theme, but also that of the “familiar forties doomed hero — an innocent man who suddenly finds himself trapped and tortured by Fate.” Indeed, while Chaney is no great actor, he’s perfectly cast here as a prodigal son misfit who stands out — both literally and figuratively — as different and strange in his own hometown: hulking Chaney and diminutive Rains make for an extremely unlikely father/son pairing, and Chaney’s broad American accent is in stark contrast to that of the townsfolk. It’s no wonder he quickly finds himself subsumed into the tragic fate of traveling gypsies (also “strangers” in the town).
Although Peary finds Jack Pierce’s makeup “convincing” and the transformation scenes “effective”, most today would disagree; particularly egregious (and puzzling even to Peary) is why Chaney “retains his human form and walks on two furry feet, while [Bela] Lugosi” (the original werewolf; his role is miniscule) “was a full-fledged wolf.” With that said, The Wolf Man relies on atmospheric sets and internal tension rather than make-up and fancy special effects to provide its chills — and in this sense, it succeeds. Of special note is Maria Ouspenskaya in perhaps her most iconic role, as the gypsy woman who informs Chaney what has happened to him; her gentle, maternal chants (“The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own”) elevate the film to a higher level altogether.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Effectively atmospheric, fog-drenched sets
- Maria Ouspenskaya as a wise gypsy woman who takes Chaney under her wing
Yes, for its importance in horror film history.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)