Saturday, October 27, 2007

"EVEN A MAN WHO IS PURE AT HEART AND SAYS HIS PRAYERS BY NIGHT..." will want to put aside a little time for a great Halloween movie: Universal's 1941 "THE WOLF MAN". After Universal's monster heyday in the 30's, Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man was the first monster to rival (and be put on the same level as) Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster and The Mummy. Sure, there was the 1935 "Werewolf of London" starring Henry Hull but that never really caught on. It wasn't until 1941 and the second horror boom the Universal (and Curt Siodmak) produced another in the pantheon of Universal monsters. And unlike all the other monsters, no one else EVER played The Wolf Man besides Lon Chaney Jr.
The story of Larry Talbot probably has a good deal to do with the Wolf Man's popularity. The monster itself is indeed a triumph of Jack Pierce's makeup talents but, before we ever see the monster, we see Lawrence Talbot; and he's so gosh darn likeable that we soon get in his corner and stay there throughout the rest of the film (and the string of movies to come). Talbot's older brother has died tragically and Larry returns home to his estranged father Claude Rains. He soon falls for Evelyn Ankers (Larry, you peeping tom, you) and all seems to be smooth sailing. Until they go to that carnival. And that werewolf Bela (Lugosi, natch). Larry kills the werewolf (and it's interesting to note that Bela the werewolf is seen in complete wolf form as opposed to Larry's later "wolf MAN") and he then becomes infected with lycanthropy. Bela's mother (the marvelous Maria Ouspenskaya) takes Larry under her wing (even though he DID kill her son) and Larry's hirsute tribulations begin in earnest.
Talk about a cast: Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Warren William (Philo Vance himself) and Universal stalward Patric Knowles. This movie shines with star power more than a full moon. And as for that poem. . .well, which version. Throughout the Universal Wolf Man series, there were two versions of the poem:
"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayer by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the Autumn moon is bright"
"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the moon is full and bright"
Pick whichever version you like; they were both written (as was the entire Wolf Man mythology) wholecloth by Curt Siodmak. That's probably the nicest thing about the movie; it seems like an old folk tale when really it was completely dreamed up by a modern movie screenwriter. But anyway you bite it, "The Wolf Man" makes one hell of a Halloween movie! It's a freakin' classic!

1 comment:

Cheekies said...

An my personal fav.