Ten years after Boris Karloff's portrayal of Frankenstein Universal Pictures decided it was time to shock movie audiences once again, this time with a tale of lycanthropy tinged with a touch of psychological ambiguity, just for good measure. In 1941's The Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr. gets the chance to peddle his wares as screen monster. After the death of his elder brother Larry Talbot, Chaney, returns from America to take over the running of his father's estate and it is here, very early on in the movie that the idea of psychological torment is first broached. We are left in no doubt that Talbot originally left for America to escape the resentment he felt towards his elder sibling - a resentment borne of jealousy towards a brother destined to rule the roost whilst the younger Talbot could only look on with envy. I thought this was a nice touch and although I would have preferred for this storyline to have been expanded upon a little more, I feel having it at all is a bonus... it's nice to know that right from the get go some serious thought had gone into the characterisation process.
Things move swiftly along as Talbot's love interest, Gwen Conliffe, Evelyn Ankers, is introduced and as the two flirt we first learn of the werewolf legend. Everyone knows that Gypsies have the ability to tell fortunes, and there is no greater fortuneteller than Bela Lugosi whose minor role here as Bela the fortuneteller imbues the movie with charismatic charm. Mr. Lugosi doesn't last long, however, and once poor Talbot is bitten by the lycanthropic changeling it is merely a question of time before his tormented life takes on a new and horrific twist.
Perhaps a little despite myself I found The Wolf Man an enjoyable distraction. Yes the acting is wooden, and yes... the monster is remarkably un-horrific! But it is the undoubted humour within the script that saves the day for me. This script is alive with wit and charm - here are a few quotes...Larry's father, as he looks through his new telescope - “All astronomers are amateurs... when it comes to the heavens there's only one professional.” When asked, “What's the matter with you, Twiddle?” as the Chief Constable, played by Ralph Bellamy and his men crowd around a dead body in the woods, Twiddle says, “I'm a little squeamish, sir”! To which the Chief Constable replies, “Well don't be squeamish... write down what I told you.” All with a dry and serious tone! They certainly don't write 'em like that any more.
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