The Wolf Man (1941 film)

The Wolf Man (1941 film)

name = The Wolf Man

director = George Waggner
writer = Curt Siodmak
starring = Lon Chaney, Jr.
Claude Rains
Warren William
Ralph Bellamy
Patric Knowles
Bela Lugosi
Maria Ouspenskaya
Evelyn Ankers
producer = George Waggner | cinematography = Joseph Valentine, ASC
distributor = Universal Pictures
released = December 12 1941
runtime = 70 min
language = English
budget = $180,000 (estimated)
amg_id = 1:55037
imdb_id = 0034398
preceded_by =
followed_by = "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"

"The Wolf Man" is a 1941 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 Wolf Man: Classic Monster Collection (1941) ] ] The film is the second Universal Pictures werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful "Werewolf of London".

A remake is due in 2009.

Plot synopsis

Lawrence Stewart "Larry" Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his ancestral home in Llanwelly, Wales to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). While there, Larry becomes romantically interested in a local girl named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), who runs an antique shop. As a pretext, he buys something from her, a silver-headed walking stick decorated with a wolf. Gwen tells him that it represents a werewolf (which she defines as a man who changes into a wolf "at certain times of the year".)

Throughout the film, various villagers recite a poem that all the locals apparently know, whenever the subject of werewolves comes up:

:"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."

That night, Larry attempts to rescue Gwen's friend Jenny from what he believes to be a sudden attack by a wolf. He kills the beast with his new walking stick, but is bitten in the process. He soon discovers that it was not just a wolf; it was a werewolf, and now Talbot has become one. A gypsy fortuneteller named Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) reveals to Larry that the animal which bit him was actually her son Bela (Bela Lugosi) in the form of a wolf. Bela had been a werewolf for years and now the curse of lycanthropy has been passed to Larry.

Sure enough, Talbot prowls the countryside in the form of a two-legged wolf. Struggling to overcome the curse, he is finally bludgeoned to death by his father with his own walking stick. As he dies, he returns to human form.

The poem, contrary to popular belief, was not an ancient legend, but was in fact an invention of screenwriter Siodmak. The poem is repeated in every subsequent film in which Talbot/The Wolf Man appears, with the exception of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", and is also quoted in the later film "Van Helsing", although many later films change the last line of the poem to "And the moon is full and bright".

The original "Wolf Man" film does not make use of the idea that a werewolf is transformed under a full moon. Gwen's description and the poem imply that it happens when the wolfbane blooms in autumn. The first sequel, though, made explicit use of the full moon both visually and in the dialog, and also changed the poem to specify "when the moon is full and bright." Presumably this is what popularized the full-moon connection in the 20th century. The sequel visually implies that the transformation occurs as a result of direct exposure to light from the full moon. Other fiction has assumed the transformation is an inescapable monthly occurrence and does not examine whether it is caused by light, tidal effects, or some cycle that happens to coincide with the moon's phases.

pecial effects

In the original film, Chaney did not undergo an on-screen transformation from man to wolf, as featured in all sequels. The lap-dissolve progressive make-ups were seen only in the final ten minutes, and then discretely: Talbot removes his shoes and socks, and it is his feet which are seen to grow hairy and transform into huge paws (courtesy of uncomfortable "boots" made of hard rubber, covered in yak hair). In the final scene, the werewolf does gradually become Larry Talbot through the standard technique.

The transformation of Chaney from man into monster was laborious. A plaster mold was made to hold his head absolutely still as his image was photographed and his outline drawn on panes of glass in front of the camera. Chaney then went to makeup man Jack Pierce's office, where Pierce, using grease paint, a rubber snout appliance and a series of wigs, glued layers of yak hair to Chaney's face. Then Chaney would return to the set, line himself up using the panes of glass as reference and several feet of film were shot. Then the make-up was removed and a new layer was applied, showing the transformation further along. This was done about a half-dozen times. Talbot’s lap dissolve transformation on screen only took seconds, while Chaney’s took almost ten hours.

According to ballyhoo from Universal's publicity department, World War II was responsible for the brevity of Chaney's hirsute appearance in the last serious sequel, "House of Dracula" (1945). According to a small blurb in that film's press book, a nationwide lack of yak hair from the Orient prevented the character from appearing in more scenes. The Wolf Man appears with bare, non-hairy hands in one shot of "House of Frankenstein," (1944) but this was an on-set gaffe.


As in most of Universal’s classic monsters, the appeal of the Wolf Man lies in the humanity beneath the horror. Lawrence Talbot was tormented with the knowledge that he became a savage beast with a lust to kill; he is the quintessential reluctant monster. Only death could set him free but, as the sequels proved, death is only temporary in monster movies.

Writer Curt Siodmak has written that he was heavily influenced by Greek Mythology while drafting the script for this film.


"The Wolf Man" proved popular, and so Chaney reprised his signature role in four more Universal films, though unlike his contemporary "monsters," Larry Talbot never enjoyed the chance to have a sequel all to himself. "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943) had Talbot’s grave opened on a full moon night, causing him to rise again (making him, in the subsequent films, technically one of the undead). He seeks out Dr. Frankenstein for a cure, but finds the monster (Bela Lugosi) instead. The two square off at the climax, but the fight ends in a draw when a dam is exploded and Frankenstein’s castle is flooded. In "House of Frankenstein" (1944), Talbot is once again resurrected and is promised a cure via a brain transplant, but is shot dead with a silver bullet instead. He returns with no explanation in "House of Dracula" (1945), and is finally cured of his condition. But he was afflicted once again, in the comedy film "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948). This time the Wolf Man is a hero of sorts, saving Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) from having his brain transplanted by Dracula (Bela Lugosi) into the head of the Monster (Glenn Strange). Grabbing the vampire as he turns into a bat, the Wolf Man dives over a balcony into the sea.


It was "The Wolf Man" that introduced the concepts of werewolves being vulnerable to silver (in traditional folklore, it is more effective against vampires), the werewolf's forced shapeshifting under a full moon, and being marked with a pentagram (a symbol of the occult). These are considered by many as part of the original folklore of the werewolf, even though they were created for the film. Unlike the werewolves of legend, which resemble true wolves, the Universal Wolf Man was an extension of the previous 1935 Werewolf of London in which both primary characters are a hybrid creature unlike the traditional interpretation. The Wolf Man stood erect like a human, but had the fur, teeth and claws and savage impulses of a wolf.

The Wolf Man has the distinction of being the only classic Universal monster to be played by the same actor in all his classic 1940s film appearances. Lon Chaney, Jr. was very proud of this, frequently stating in interviews: "He was my baby." Chaney would go on to play a wolf man (if not "the" Wolf Man) in very similar makeup in the 1959 Mexican film "La Casa del Terror" and a famous 1962 episode of TV's "Route 66" titled "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing," which also starred Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster. Nearly a decade later, even though he was seriously ill at the time, Chaney managed to conjure up his original energetic gestures while masked in a quasi-wolfish rubber mask for one scene in his last (and most unfortunate) film, 1971's "Dracula vs. Frankenstein".

"The Wolf Man" was not Universal's first werewolf film. It was preceded by "Werewolf of London" (1935), starring noted character actor Henry Hull in a quite different and more subtle werewolf makeup. Interestingly, the original Jack Pierce make-up for Hull was nearly identical to the later one on Chaney. Hull apparently objected to having his face entirely covered in hair, and a less-hirsuit, more devilish version was used in the film. The film was not a huge box office success, probably because audiences of the day thought it too similar in many ways to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", for which Fredric March had won an Oscar three years before. Some latter-day critics prefer Jack Pierce's earlier werewolf to Chaney's, which was described in Carlos Clarens's book "An Illustrated History of the Horror FIlm' as "... looking like a hirsuit Cossack."

The Wolf Man is one of three top-tier Universal Studios monsters without a direct literary source. The others are The Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In the 1970s, novelizations of the original films were issued as paperback originals as part of a series written by "Carl Dreadstone," a "house name" pseudonym for a several writers, including British horror writer Ramsey Campbell).

Fantasy/horror author Neil Gaiman uses the "Larry Talbot" character in two selections from his short story collection "Smoke and Mirrors".

Other characters referred to as "the Wolf Man" appear in Van Helsing, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, The Monster Squad, Mad Monster Party, and Waxwork.


* Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot
* Warren William as Dr. Lloyd
* Ralph Bellamy as Colonel Montford
* Patric Knowles as Frank Andrews
* Béla Lugosi as Bela
* Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva
* Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe
* J.M. Kerrigan as Charles Conliffe
* Fay Helm as Jenny
* Forrester Harvey as Twiddle
* Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man

Universal Legacy Collection DVD

*"Werewolf of London"
*"The Wolf Man"
*"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"
*"She-Wolf of London"

The DVD collection also included the following bonus features:

*Documentary hosted by "Van Helsing" director Stephen Sommers.
*"Monster by Moonlight" documentary hosted by John Landis
*"The Wolf Man" commentary from film historian Tom Weaver.


External links

* [ The Wolf Man] screen captures

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