Film / The Wolf Man (1941)

"Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright."

The Wolf Man is a 1941 Universal Horror film written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood's depictions of the legend of the werewolf. The film is the second Universal werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful Werewolf of London.

Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) is about to have a really bad night. He's just returned to his family's home in Llanwelly, Wales, to reconcile with his father (Rains). While there, he meets and starts pursuing Gwen Conliffe (Ankers), a shopkeeper who sold him a walking stick adorned with a silver wolf's head (which she says represents a werewolf). In the course of rescuing Gwen's friend Jenny from an apparent wolf attack, Larry is bitten. He soon learns from a gypsy fortuneteller (Ouspenskaya) that the wolf in question was actually a werewolf, specifically her son Bela (Lugosi) roaming the countryside in the form of a wolf. Bela had been a werewolf for years, and has now passed on the curse to Larry.

Can Larry overcome this curse? Are his friends and family safe from the roaming beast?

Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Wolf Man was featured in four further films in the Universal monster cycle:

A remake of the film was released in 2010.

The Wolf Man is also part of the official Universal Monsters lineup.

This film has the examples of:

  • Fearsome Foot: The camera focuses on Larry Talbot's feet turning into wolf-like footpaws for the duration of a transformation scene. After Larry's feet become fully transformed, the camera continues to close up on then as he prowls out of the room and into the forest.
  • Furry Confusion: When Bela the werewolf attacks Jenny and Larry, it is in the form of a quadrupedal, bestial-appearing wolf; when Larry the werewolf attacks, it is in the bipedal form of a Wolf Man.
    • A possible reason for this is that the film was originally meant to be a psychological thriller, where you're never quite sure if Larry is really becoming a werewolf or whether it's all in his head. Naturally, this means he would have to be attacked by a creature resembling a true wolf, for if he was attacked by a Wolf Man type monster, there would be no doubt that the werewolves are indeed real.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a b-movie monster horror flick with the overtones of a Film Noir.
  • Gypsy Curse: Averted, and inverted, by Maleva.
  • Horror Struck: Larry is initially skeptical to being a werewolf and towards werewolves in general, until, you know, he actually becomes one.
  • Human To Werewolf Footprints
  • Leitmotif: Talbot's werewolf form is always introduced by three short notes.
  • Magic Pants: It's also more like Magic Shirts.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The entire movie was originally supposed to be this, with us never finding out if Larry is simply delusional and imagining he transforms into a wolf, or if he's an actual werewolf. It was this way until a few weeks before shooting, when it was decided it should be a straight up monster flick.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Subverted by the Gypsy Maleva ("mal" and "evil"!), who is one of the more helpful characters in the film.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Though Larry's accent is justified by the statement that he has been away in America for years, it is still remarkable that in a story set in Wales not a single character speaks with a Welsh accent. Perhaps the most glaring examples are Ralph Bellamy's Colonel Mountford and Warren Williams' Dr. Lloyd, both clearly Americans — but even the British cast members are all clearly either English or Irish.
  • Ominous Fog
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In addition to introducing the Wolf Man variant to popular culture, this movie also introduced the silver vulnerability to the mythos, and being marked with a pentagram. Contrary to popular belief, it didn't introduce forced shape-shifting under the full moon, which instead first showed up in the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
  • Playing the Heart Strings: This takes the form in Salter and Skinner's score of a single Gypsy violin over Maleva's reciting of the Gypsy valediction, "The way you walked was thorny..."
  • Romani: Maria Ouspenskaya's old gypsy fortune teller, Maleva.
    • And to a lesser extent, Bela Lugosi's role as her son.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Lawrence
  • Stalker with a Crush: Larry. At least, he comes off as this for the first ten minutes of the movie, because it becomes less stalker-ish as the movie goes on. Gwen is initially perturbed because she's already engaged to another man and she's uncomfortable at the thought of Larry being able to peer into her window. For most of the movie, she seems to clearly be struggling to not be attracted to him, making her a very unusual case of a "love interest" in a film like this.
  • Supernatural Angst
  • This Was His True Form: This causes some problems for Larry - he beat a wolf to death with a cane, and is very confused as to why everyone keeps asking him why he killed a human.
  • Torches and Pitchforks
  • Tragic Monster
  • Transformation Sequence
  • Trope Codifier / Trope Maker: For the werewolf movie. Also for popular werewolf fiction in general, as there's no lycanthrope's equivalent of Dracula.
  • Viral Transformation