As mentioned here earlier, Hollywood has embraced the legend of the Wolfman for over eight decades. Starting with Universal’s 1935 film, Werewolf of London, rarely has a decade passed without a lycan showing up in a film. While the 1935 debut of the lycans of urban fantasy was less than stellar, six years later Universal got it right with its do-over.
In 1941, The Wolfman, hit the silver screens and started a franchise. Today we’re going to take a look at the film that started it all.
The Wolfman (1941)
Larry Talbot returns from his self-imposed exile to the United States to Talbot Hall in Wales. But the return of the prodigal son comes only after the death of Larry’s brother, leaving Sir John Talbot with one child.
Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.), at the urging of Sir John (Claude Raines), heads into the village to get reaquainted with his childhood homelands. Earlier, whilst looking through his father’s telescope, Larry accidentally becomes a peeping tom of sorts. He spots Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) trying on earrings in her room above her father’s antique store.
The fair lady having caught his eye, Larry heads for the shop and as an excuse to talk with her purchases a walking stick. This stick has a wolf’s head of pure silver. When the conversation turns to werewolves Gwen recounts the saying that has carried down in lycan films for years:
“Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
A Fateful Encounter
Larry convinces Gwen to accompany him to a gypsy camp and she brings along her friend Jenny as a chaperone. Jenny encounters a gypsy fortuneteller name Bela (Bela Lugosi) who sees a terrible future for her and tells her to run away.
But the warning comes to late and even as Jenny flees the camp, she is run down and killed by a wolf. Larry tries to come to her rescue and kills the wolf with his walking stick. But Larry is bitten by the wolf before he slays it.
Badly hurt, Larry is tended to by Bela’s own mother, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), before being returned to Talbot Hall to recover. When Larry learns that it was Bela’s body the police discovered, and not a wolf, he begins to doubt his sanity.
Larry’s wound heals completely, and unnaturally swiftly as well. As soon as the moon is full once again, he begins to transform into The Wolfman. Colonel Paul Montford (Ralph Bellamy) is charged with solving a string of grisly murders even as Sir John tries to convince Larry he is not a werewolf.
When Larry breaks free from the room his father had imprisoned him after transforming, he attacks Gwen. Seeing a wolf attacking her, Sir John uses Larry’s walking stick to kill the beast and then watches in horror as the wolf turns into the corpse of his last child.
It is an old film, shot in black and white and with very basic special effects. But if you haven’t seen it yet you simply have to. It is a classic that still holds up against many of its predecessors.
It is in my video library in my home. Make it part of yours.