Title: The Wolf Man
Release Date: December 12, 1941
Director: George Waggner
Production Company: Universal Pictures
The Wolf Man is the last of the “Big Three” Universal Monsters to debut after Dracula and Frankenstein (or Big 5 if you include The Mummy and The Invisible Man). Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Larry Talbot, who returns to his family estate in Wales after 18 years in the U.S. after the death of his brother. He’s reunited with his estranged father Sir John (Claude Rains), and begins pursuing a young woman who runs an antique shop named Gwen (Evelyn Ankers). After some really creepy/stalker behavior on Larry’s part, Gwen – who is engaged to Frank (Patric Knowles) – agrees to go out with him but only in the company of her friend Jenny (Fay Helm).
They go to have their fortunes told by a Romani man named Bela (Bela Lugosi) while Gwen also shares the local legend of the werewolf. Naturally, there’s a wolf attack, and Larry is bitten fighting and killing the wolf thus becoming a werewolf. It’s unclear why the first werewolf looks like a wolf while Larry looks like a hairy Lon Chaney, Jr. but the costume and transition effects are still pretty cool for the time. It’s also interesting that tropes like the full moon covered by clouds are not aspects of wolf man movies at this point.
I kind of feel like the tension and mood are strong early on in this movie, but I kind of lost interest in the second half. Not that I want there to be more violent Wolf Man attacks, but it mostly plays as a moody melodrama. And I’m not sold on the Larry-Gwen romance in the slightest. At any rate, this is just the beginning of the Wolf Man legacy, and I will soon be watching more films that it influenced.