The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. is without a doubt my favorite werewolf film ever made. Admittedly I’m not a fan if the sub-genre so most of the time I tend to watch them once then never revisit them. Not here, no sir. Written by Curt Siodmak and directed by George Wagger, The Wolf Man is a classic character of the Universal monster horror cycle of the 1930s for very good reason. That reason being the outstanding cast and phenomenal script.
The Wolf Man follows Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) who returns home after the death of his brother. He meets a local shop girl Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) while shopping. The two flirt with one another over the purchases of a walking stick with a silver wolf head. Talbot is able to convince Gwen to go with him to a circus. That night he’s bitten by a werewolf while trying to save Gwen’s friend Jenny Williams (Fay Helm) and in the altercation he manages to kill the werewolf. One of the gypsy’s, Malveva (Maria Ouspenskaya) tells Larry of his new-found curse and that the werewolf was her son Bella (Bella Lugosi). At first Larry doesn’t believe her, but after he transforms and retains vague memories of the event. He tries to warn people, but no one believes him…
The reason I like this film over other werewolf films is that it’s less about the monster and more about the man. You get to know and understand Larry as he struggles with his curse. He moves through a wide range of emotions through the course of the film illustrating just how strong of an actor he was. That couple with the Evelyn Ankers the original scream queen playing his opposite and having not just Claude Rains but also Bela Lugosi you couldn’t ask for a better cast.
The mood is perfect with a slight fantasy feel with gnarled trees and dense fog. The entire film is full of memorable shot and wonderful set pieces. The high level of detail along made this film age far better than most of the monster films of the time as it doesn’t come off as dated or cliche. Even Lon Chaney’s transformation scenes hold up very well. Even better than much newer films such as the werewolf scenes in Cursed or in Van Helsing.
Final thoughts, like I said this film is a classic for a reason. So if you have yet to see this film than I strongly recommend you make the time to see it. If for no other reason to see where the genre started. I know Werewolf of London came out several years prior, but it was Lon Chaney and his portrayal of the Wolf Man that cemented the werewolf in the public consciousness. It’s one of the few films I can find no genuine faults in, so The Wolf Man scores its self a perfect score 10/10.