Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Wolf Man (1941)

The eldest son of the affluent Talbot family dies in a horrible hunting accident, so ne'er-do-well younger son (Creighton Chaney) returns home to patch things up with 'oll dad (Claude Rains) and take his place as favorite boy. Dad shows junior around the laboratory. Seems Larry knows a thing or two about telescopes as he took a janitorial job in a California observatory. Straight away he points said telescope townward to spy the young hotties.

His eye lands on young Gwen (Evelyn Ankers). He pays her a visit and creepily explains how he has been stalking her. She is a proper lady and engaged to a proper gentleman, but for some reason cannot resist his lumpy goodness. He coerces her into visiting those lovely gypsies that are welcomed everywhere they go. To keep her virtue intact, Gwen brings along her undoable friend, Jenny (Fay Helm).

They visit the Gypsy fortunate teller Bela (Bela). Jenny gets her fortune read first. Seems her future has her being chowed on by an Evil man-wolf. Lumpy Larry arrives in the nick of time to kill the offending wolf, but after her throat has been ripped out. For his troubles, he gets a nasty bite to his chest. When the authorities arrive, they find Bela's body and Larry's walking stick. Hmmmm ...

Would I be spoiling things to say that Chaney becomes The Wolf Man?

Rains playing Chaney's father was rather interesting, because in real life Creighton's father was also a little man who could act circles around him. Bela was also good in his limited role, and Ralph Bellamy was good in his supporting role, but who I really noticed was Jessie Arnold as the Gypsy woman. Creepy and nuanced, the right kind of character actor. Chaney, as always, is ham-fisted in every scene.

Now, I've pointed out that the modern incarnation of zombies (post-Romero) are actually ghouls, not zombies as they exist in "real life". So too will I criticize the werewolf. IMdb asserts that many myths of werewolves come from The Wolf Man, but a few came from Werewolf of London, most notably that being a werewolf is a curse brought on by a bite. In folklore, however, one is granted the power of a werewolf by signing a pact with the Devil.

That aside, this icon of horror that made Chaney "Jr." a star, owes very little to him. The good story and script, good acting (mostly), and quality sets and production survived a mediocre actor in the lead. Imagine if Karloff got the role. AMRU 3.5.
"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."

No comments:

Post a Comment