A Midsummer Night's Scream - THE WOLF MAN (1941 original)

Martin Rayburn turns back the clock to the Golden Age of Cinema and revisits Universal's 1941 classic horror movie, The Wolf Man.

A good horror film needs three important actors. A great story, a great monster and a great star. The Wolf Man delvers on all three counts.

Prodigal son, Larry Talbot, returns home to his Father's country estate. Following a visit with a friend to a gypsy fortune-teller, he is bitten by a werewolf and cursed to become one himself. Confused, frightened and unsure of what is happening to him, tragedy awaits.

The Wolf Man was not the first werewolf movie, that was 1935's Werewolf of London, but this is the movie that first presents the werewolf mythology which we associate with the character today. For me the werewolf story has always been one of horror's most interesting themes, the duality of man, only with scares!

The film itself is very well made, a budget of $180,000 looks to be spent wisely on a first rate cast and very atmospheric set dressings. There are eerie fog swirls everywhere, and the landscape is dominated by rough, twisted, leafless trees. Its tone is evocative of the Sherlock Holmes films from that era, The Hound of the Baskervilles especially, although obviously the content is very different.

The Wolf Man was written by one of the most prolific horror writers from that era, Curt Siodmak, and stars some of the most recognisable actors of the time. Taking the lead as Larry Talbot/Wolf Man is Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Raines plays his father, co-stars include Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy, plus there's even a cameo from the legendary Bela Lugosi.

Chaney would revisit his Wolf Man character 4 more times, and so it became his most famous role (although he's also well known, and very good as Lennie in 1939s Of Mice and Men). He was perfectly cast, his tragic, deeply lined face and sad eyes suggest a troubled soul, which is clearly not an easy thing to fake. Combine that with his first rate portrayal in displaying the deep concern over the prospect of another werewolf transformation, and the potential damage it will cause - he seems to have been born to play the part. Possibly he pulled upon his own personal problems, he'd had a very troubled childhood and believed his mother had died for many years. It was also later claimed that he struggled with alcoholism, with his drinking often resulting in actual bloodshed on the movie sets. Could it be that his characters struggle to contain the monster is possibly a case of art imitating life?

For the fans of classic horror movies The Wolf Man is a must see, and even those who do not usually go for this genre should still be able to appreciate the fine actors, the great monster and the very atmospheric story.

By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 47.
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