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Wednesday, 8 July 2009


Feeling at a lose end I popped this DVD into my player and climbed into bed. It's been years and years since I last saw this. I bought the DVD a few years ago but haven't ever played it until now - I've bought quite a few of these old Universal classics on DVD because I loved them when I was a child and knew them backwards. I still do, I discovered, as I mouthed the lines as they were spoken in the movie.

The Wolf Man was, although a sizable hit, never as big for the studio as Frankenstein and Dracula. It was the same years later with the Hammer versions - old Dracs and Frankie always eclipsed the crazed canis. Don't know why, though because I love old Wolfie. And this Universal version is my all time favourite - I mean look at the Wolf Man, isn't he the coolest cinema werewolf ever! Okay American Werewolf in London may have better effects, The Howling's beasts may be more lupine, but Jack Pierce's make up ( Yak hairs and dried seaweed was used and it took over six hours to apply) here is just brilliant. The fact that the wolf man retains his basic human shape also makes him, to my mind, much more creepier than the later, technically more advanced make up and even CGI. When this film was made CGI was the stuff of the far future and make up methods were prehistoric in comparison to today's wonders. None of that matters though and this is quite possibly the greatest werewolf film ever.

"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."

That piece of ancient lore is repeated several times through the movie.

Lon Chaney JNR plays Larry Talbot who returns home to his native Wales (I love Hollywood's version of Wales) and takes up residence in the family home. His father is played by Claude Rains who is actually only seven years older than Chaney and actually looks younger. Also in the cast is Bela Lugosi as the Gypsy Bela.

The story uses a mixture of ancient folklore but what is remarkable is that the line above is these days regarded as genuine Gypsy lore when it was, in fact, written by screenwriter Curt Siodmak. And this Wolf Man film is probably the most fondly remembered of all the wolf man movies over the years. Chaney's hang dog expression is superb for the tragic Larry Talbot who is haunted by the fact that he now turns into a ravenous wolf at the sight of a full moon.

The film cranks up the excitement and the eventual demise of the wolf man is touching and provokes a smiliar mixture of sympathy for the monster as the death of King Kong did. Only this time it is not beauty that killed the beast but a silver walking cane wielded by old Wolfie's dad.

The running time is only just over an hour which means that its fast paced as well as wonderfully acted and brilliantly staged. The film is available on Region 2 as a single disc but also as a double pack partnered with Werewolf of London (1935) as well as several informative documentaries and a well produced booklet that looks at both films. It's a great film that upon its release was Universal's biggest money maker of the year.

TRIVIA - when the first transformation takes place Larry Talbot is wearing a cream coloured shirt and yet when he becomes the wolf man and is on the prowl he is wearing a much darker shirt.


Randy Johnson said...

I agree with the idea that this is the best werewolf movie. Today's CGI transformations look good, but I remember watching this one on TV when I was a kid and it scared the bejesus out of me. I loved every second of it.
Today's movies, us older viewers set back and marvel at the wonder of it all, but would it scare us? Hardly.
I think today's kids miss something with all of today's technology and the sad thing is they will never know that.

Jake Murdock said...

I always felt sorry for Larry Talbot, given a curse he never wanted and was unable to get rid of. (only in death)

When I was a kid, "the Wolfman" was my favorite monster movie. And it still might be...

I always get a kick when I see "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein," (1948) with the monster playing it straight.

Larry Talbot (Chaney): You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf.
Wilbur (Costello): You and twenty million other guys.

Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't see this until I was an adult and it didn't do much for me. Of course, I'd seen many later movies already. I don't know if I've ever seen a werewolf movie that actually was scary, but I've seen some cool ones. One of my favorites is "American Werewolf in London"

Matthew Coniam said...

You mean Wales isn't really like that???

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Only at night.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

The most not like Wales - Wales was the Wales of John Ford's How Green was my Valley.