The Wolf Man, written by Curt Siodmak, directed by George Waggner, starring Lon Chaney Jr. (Larry Talbot), Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Bela Lugosi (Bela), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva), Evelyn Ankers (Gwen), and Ralph Bellamy (Colonel Montford) (1941): One of the high points of the Universal monster movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Trimmed to the bone (70 minutes of running time) and smartly suggestive rather than explicit, The Wolf Man follows Lawrence Talbot,an affable Americanized second son returning to the family estate somewhere in England after 18 years away because of the death of his brother at the paws of…a werewolf!
Shape-changing hilarity soon ensues as Talbot gets bitten by a Gypsy werewolf named Bela, played by Bela Lugosi. Soon, Talbot is turning into a werewolf and threatening new gal pal Gwen and pretty much anyone else who goes outside during a full moon. For the purposes of the movie, a full moon lasts three days. Werewolfery isn’t super-precise.
The Wolf Man pretty much invented many of the werewolf tropes that writers and film-makers now treat as myth-based, including the bipedal, clothes-wearing version of the werewolf, which bears no resemblance to any man-wolf of the past. We also get the famous werewolf rhyme, and an iconic performance by Maria Ouspenskaya as an old Gypsy woman who knows a lot about werewolves.
Lon Chaney Jr. wasn’t a great actor, and he was always overshadowed by the achievements of his ‘Man of a 1000 Faces’ father, Lon Chaney Sr.. He’s a bulky, affable presence, though, and the film plays to that, making him a bewildered innocent doomed by chance. Well, sort of doomed. There were still a lot of sequels to be made. Claude Rains is nifty as always playing Larry Talbot’s father, whose telescope gives us a comedy scene that’s probably a lot funnier and creepier now than it was in 1941. Recommended.