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Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18- The Wolfman (1941)

Here, everyone, is the most popular Universal monster movie of the 1940's, The Wolfman. Although it wasn't the first werewolf movie made by Universal Studios (the first being Werewolf of London, made in 1936), it was the first successful one. This film follows Larry Talbot (played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) and a curse he receives that turns him into a werewolf by the light of the full moon. This movie cemented the many stereotypes about werewolves that are still thought of today.

The film stars with Larry Talbot arriving at Talbot Castle. He is met there by his father, Sir John Talbot (played by Claude Rains). It is revealed that there are some personal issues between the father and son, including the death of Larry's older brother. Larry decides to spend some time in the village near his home. There, he meets Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), whom he becomes romantically interested in. She runs an antique shop and as a way to speak to her, Larry buys a silver walking stick with the head of it in the shape of wolf. This can be seen as a foreshadowing to the events that would happen to Larry Talbot a little later in the film. Regardless, as he's purchasing the stick, Larry is told by Gwen about the legend of the werewolf. It's an interesting way to introduce the mythology to the audience, but nonetheless, it's effective. A poem that is very prevalent throughout the course of the movie and is recited many times:

"Every man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers at night
may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright."

Later that night, Larry manages to save Gwen from what appears to be a wolf attack. Larry is bitten in the chest, but manages to kill the wolf with his new walking stick (the handle being silver did the trick). Larry starts feeling weird and meets a gypsy woman named  Maleva (played by Maria Ouspenskaya), who tells Larry that the "wolf" that had bitten him was actually her son Bela (played by Bela Lugosi), who had been a werewolf for many years. The grim diagnosis comes from the gypsy that Larry will turn into a werewolf, as well. 

Larry Talbot talking to Madelva

Larry begins turning into a werewolf and stalking the village. The first victim of the Wolfman's is a local gravedigger. Larry awakes from the curse in the morning, vaguely remembering his actions and his feelings of wanting to kill. He looks for a cure, but is unsuccessful. After causing more commotion, he is eventually beaten to death by his father, who uses Larry's own silver walking stick to do it. After being killed, the Wolfman slowly turns back into Larry Talbot, much to his father's dismay.

There are so many parts of this movie that are memorable. For one, the scenes in the woods are incredible and the set itself is one of  the most memorable settings in the horror genre. Just watching the Wolfman sneak through the fog-laden woods makes me feel nostalgic. Another incredible part of the movie is where Larry Talbot first transforms into a werewolf for the first time. This was the work of Universal makeup legend Jack Pierce, who had Lon Chaney Jr. sit in a chair for hours on end while he applied the many layers of makeup necessary to make the shot work. 

This movie serves as one of the best horror movies of all time, and it is the most popular monster franchise of the early 1940's. The Wolfman was so successful that Chaney would play the Wolfman four more times, although he would would never get a direct sequel featuring only the Wolfman. Nonetheless, this movie also served as a vehicle for the launch of the horror career of Lon Chaney Jr., following in the footsteps of his late father, the legendary silent film actor Lon Chaney Sr. Overall, an amazing and historic movie, and I give it 5 full moons out of 5.

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