Last Night: THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Poor puppy.  The Wolf Man is the saddest of the Universal Monsters, a woefully misunderstood creature who can’t help what he does and just needs his daddy to love him.  Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) returns to his family castle in … well, I think it’s England, but the accents are all over the place.  His father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) is a kindly but distant fellow who loved Larry’s elder brother much more than his big, cuddly and sad-eyed younger boy.  Larry instantly falls for the pretty girl in the window Gwen (Evelyn Ankers).  But of course, he gets bit by a gypsy werewolf (Bela Lugosi, underused) and descends into the netherworld where he can no longer control his animal urges.

The Wolf Man is the iconic werewolf film, referenced in every single werewolf movie since, and Lon Chaney Jr. is the perfect werewolf.  He’s a large but gentle man, sad-eyed and generous, and does not deserve what becomes of him.  Which is exactly the point.  Unlike many of the wolf men who come after him, Larry really is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He’s bitten only because he tries to help a girl, and no one will believe him when he claims to be a danger to himself and others.  The other characters are all archetypes: the hunter (Patric Knowles), the policeman (Ralph Bellamy) and the doctor (Warren William).  The film plays like a gothic fairytale, down to the little old gypsy woman and her poem about pure hearts and wolf bane.  The Wolf Man is a late Universal film, but it deserves to rank up there with Dracula and Frankenstein.

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