Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. After a few fun fun-but-lesser sequels, it’s time for another bona fide classic with The Wolf Man.
Here’s what happens: Larry Talbot returns to hometown after the death of his brother, where he reconnects with his father, old friends, and a new love. Then he gets attacked by a wolf, setting up a monstrous transformation.
Monster! Of course we have another iconic makeup creation from the legendary makeup guy Jack Pierce, but Lon Cheney Jr.’s physicality really sells the monster. As Talbot, Cheney has an easygoing, guy-next-door charm, but once he’s the Wolf Man, he moves so quickly and manic, you’d think it was two different actors.
Also a monster! Bela Lugosi is back, this time playing a fortune teller who is the OG wolf man that bites Talbot. It’s another great Bela performance, a completely different character from either Dracula or Ygor. We only get quick glimpses of him in wolf form, probably because the production’s wolf puppet wouldn’t have been very impressive in close-up.
Our hero: Poor Larry Talbot is both the hero and the monster. His early scenes, in which he’s the romantic lead, where he has a an almost childlike charm to his actions. Then, once he realizes what he’s become, he keeps wanting to run away from everyone, only for circumstances to keep him around.
Hapless humans: There’s quite a huge cast of supporting characters in this one – perhaps too many. Talbot’s love interest Gwen romances him somewhat hesitantly, even dating another guy at one point. Talbot’s father is played by former Invisible Man Claude Rains, who offers a sympathetic ear to Talbot’s struggles. Maria Ouspenskaya steals every scene she’s in as another creepy fortune teller. And I really liked Ralph Bellamy as Paul, the local detective who stands in for the audience as he tries to figure out what’s been going on.
Thrills: The actual Wolf Man doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and any wolf vs. human action is fleeting. The transformations are what we’re really here for. We see his feet (ew) transform twice, and then the big face transformation in two parts at the end. Groundbreaking for its time, but I suspect the better transformation scenes might be in the sequels.
Laughs: The only humor is romantic comedy stuff, with Talbot’s flirtations with Gwen. He doesn’t take no for an answer, which is supposed to be whimsical, but off as pretty cringe-y.
Thoughts upon this viewing: The Wolf Man is often studied as a the-monster-within story, but it also works as a don’t-go-in-the-woods story. Whenever the characters leave the comfort of their town to venture in the foggy woods (a.k.a. the unknown) that’s when bad things happen. Note how many times the character in shots with tree limbs between them and the camera, making it feel like they are separated from the viewer and truly on their own. Really cool movie.
Next: Ghost with the most.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.