This Halloween season, I will be talking about classic Universal Horror Films. Universal Pictures was pretty much built on their classic horror movies. All of the horror movies that they have made, have pretty much set the standard for horror films and the way that we view these classic monsters today. I consider all of these films favorites of mine. Whenever we hear the name Frankenstein, Wolfman or Dracula, we automatically associate that monster with what Universal envisioned back in the early days of filmmaking. I thought it would be cool to share my favorite Universal Horror films and monsters. The third film I will be discussing is The Wolf Man.
This is such a fun movie and story. The Wolf Man is one of my favorite Universal monster movies, and I think I one of the greatest horror films made. I loved the whole film setting, design, and vibe of the whole experience. The film was shot on what was considered a B-grade budget, but it was certainly not B-grade in its quality. The setting of the film is a purposefully ambiguous Euro-British village in a make-believe version of the present (1941). By contrast, in this happy and fictitious setting there is no world-war being waged, as there was in the real world of 1941. Ironically, production of The Wolf Man took place over three weeks in November, wrapping a matter of days before the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. The film was intended to be a fairy tale, a complete fiction and total entertainment. I assume the studio execs at Universal felt that the fictional horrors of The Wolf Man would be at odds with the real horrors of World War II.
The film centers on Larry Talbot, who upon the death of his brother, returns from America to his ancestral home in Wales. He visits a gypsy camp with village girl Jenny Williams, who is attacked by Bela, a gypsy who has turned into a werewolf. Larry kills the werewolf, but is bitten during the fight. Bela's mother tells him that this will cause him to become a werewolf at each full moon. Larry confesses his plight to his unbelieving father, Sir John, who then joins the villagers in a hunt for the wolf. Larry, transformed by the full moon, heads for the forest and a fateful meeting with both Sir John and Gwen.
This 1941 monster film had a strong monster cast which included Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, Claude Rains, and Bela Lugosi. It took Lon Chaney Jr. 6 hours to apply the wolf make-up. The wolf transformation scene was not shown until the final 10 minutes of the movie and it takes place with Talbot in an undershirt (although he is fully dressed in a dark shirt once on the prowl). Only the feet transform on screen in six lapse dissolves. In the second transformation, there are eleven shots - again of feet only. The third transformation features 17 face shots in a continuous dissolve.
As you may know, The Wolf Man is getting remade, and the guy directing it is Joe Johnston, who I think will do a great job. I really like what I have seen in the trailers that have been released.
Here is some other stuff you may not know about the movie.
The Wolf Man battled a bear in one scene, but unfortunately the bear ran away during filming. What few scenes were filmed were put into the theatrical trailer.
Maria Ouspenskaya, who played the old Gypsy woman, was only six years older than Bela Lugosi, who played her son.
The script for The Wolf Man was influenced by writer Curt Siodmak's experiences in Nazi Germany. Siodmak had been living a normal life in Germany only to have it thrown into chaos and himself on the run when the Nazis took control, just as Larry Talbot finds his normal life thrown into chaos and himself on the run once he is turned into a werewolf. Also, the wolf man himself can be seen as a metaphor for the Nazis: an otherwise good man who is transformed into a vicious killing animal who knows who his next victim will be when he sees the symbol of a pentagram (i.e., a star) on them.
Curt Siodmak's first draft lacked all werewolf scenes and the hallucinatory sequence.
Evelyn Ankers had a rough time on the set. Lon Chaney Jr. delighted in sneaking up on her in full makeup and scaring her senseless.
Despite Universal's apprehensions over the public's appetite for horror movies following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film became one of the studio's top grossers in 1942.
Silent film actor Gibson Gowland appears in this film as a villager present at the death of Larry Talbot. He also had been present during the Phantom's death scene in the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, becoming the only actor to appear in death scenes performed by both Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr.
Here is a great little documentary on the making o the original Wolf Man.
Click Here to watch Part 3 of 3
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