As far as the major studios go, Universal is the undisputed king of the monster movies. Throughout the 1930s, the monster movies brought out by the studio dominated the Horror genre - utterly dwarfing the competition. Universal brought us Dracula, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and the Mummy all within 10 years of each other. In 1941, the last of the great iconic Universal monsters was produced by the studio when they brought us THE WOLF MAN.
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The plot is simple, to say the least. Larry Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr., is our protagonist who is bitten by a wolf early on in the film and inherits the curse of transforming into a werewolf. After killing a local gravedigger as the wolf, Larry searches for a way to overcome his curse. Lon Chaney Jr. convincingly plays the desperation and remorse of Larry Talbot as he slowly comes to the conclusion that only his death will break the cycle. Although THE WOLF MAN boasts a great cast, intelligent direction, and a wonderfully moody art design, the real star of this film is the creature make-up created by (who else?) Jack Pierce - the man who brought us Karloff’s Frankenstein and Mummy, and Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein.
The Wolf Man’s look is another triumph in Jack Pierce’s innovative career. Taking up to six hours to apply, and another 3 to remove, the mask consisted mostly of layers of yak hair along with a rubber snout, grease paint, and a wig. The simple ingredients were a laborious process to put together, but the result speaks for itself. An iconic monster to take it’s place in the Universal pantheon.
Universal was nervous about the release of THE WOLF MAN in December of 1941. They had legitimate concern about the public’s appetite for Horror films following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s subsequent entry into World War II. They needn’t have worried. The film was a smash and went on to be one of the top grossers of 1942. It has since gone on to solidify it’s place as one of America’s Horror treasures.
THE WOLF MAN fun facts - The script for THE WOLF MAN was influenced by writer Curt Siodmak’s experiences while living in Nazi Germany.
The wolf that Larry Talbot fights early in the film was actually Lon Chaney Jr’s own German Shepherd.
Universal originally wanted Boris Karloff to play Larry Talbot. The idea was dropped when the character became the prodigal son of Sir John Talbot. In earlier drafts of the script, Larry was an engineer who comes to repair Sir John’s telescope.
Jenny Williams - “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”
Dr. Lloyd - “I believe a man lost in the mazes of this own mind may imagine that he’s anything.”
Maleva - (seeing Larry’s wolf bite) “Go now. And Heaven help you…”