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The Wolf Man

August 12, 2010

143. The Wolf Man
Directed by George Waggner
USA, 1941
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


A man is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one himself, as he desperately tries to convince those close to him that the werewolf myth is true.

Essential Scene:

The poem, which all the villagers know, has been ringing in Larry’s ears since the beginning of the film:

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.

He walks slowly into the church were Bela the gypsy’s coffin lies. Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) hides behind a pillar, overhearing Bela’s mother (Maria Ouspenskaya) talk to her dead son.

The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own. But as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Your suffering is over, Bela, my son. Now you will find peace.

With that she leaves, as calmly as she arrived. Larry appears from his hiding place and leans on the coffin, crying silently in anguish. Bela (Béla Lugosi) was the werewolf who bit Larry, before Larry clubbed him to death. Larry’s suffering has just begun.


The Wolf Man is one of the early horror classics, and early horror does not age well… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated. With Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi in one film (not to mention the extraordinary make up work of Jack P. Pierce), it’s worth seeing where the main blueprint for the werewolf originated.

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing

Essential Scene:

Larry comes to Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) in the middle of the night. They meet in the antiques shop owned by her father. Distraught, Larry tells her that he’s leaving the village. She offers to go with him, but he refuses.

Larry: No no. I’m going alone.

Gwen: But I can help you.

Larry: You wouldn’t want to run away with a murderer, would you?

Gwen: Oh Larry, you’re not. You know you’re not.

Larry: I killed Bela. I killed Richardson. If I stay around here much longer, you can’t tell who’s gonna be next. Why, it might even —

Gwen tries to reassure him. She still wears the protective charm given to Larry by the gypsy woman. But Larry is afraid. He knows he is cursed.

Legend has it that the werewolf sees a pentagram on the palm of his next victim. Larry sees it on Gwen’s hand. He pulls away from her and points. “Your hand!”

Having been awakened, Gwen’s father comes downstairs. Gwen tells him that she’s leaving with Larry. Larry shouts tearfully; “No! It’s no use!” He runs from the shop, slamming the door behind him.


I was pleasantly surprised by The Wolf Man. Granted, some of the horror has lost its impact due to dated special effects, but I found myself emotionally invested in the story. Lon Chaney Jr portrays brilliantly the anguish of a gentle man doomed like Jekyll to transform and commit murder against his will.

Screenwriter Curt Siodmak has stated the Wolf Man can be considered a metaphor for the Nazis from whom he fled to America — an otherwise good man forced into barbarism, identifying his next victim with a star-shaped symbol.

I was amused by the apparent battle between religion and superstition. At one point, a priest says of gypsy customs; “Fighting against superstition is as hard as fighting against Satan himself.” Yeah, why would you believe in werewolves when you can believe in a magic man in the sky? (Yeah, take that, God!)

But I digress… The Wolf Man was my first experience of Lon Chaney Jr and Universal monster movies. I look forward to more of both.

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