Friday, January 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolf Man (1941)

"Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."

 This was one of the first horror films I ever watched, and probably the one that had the largest impact on me.  The dreamy backdrops and transformation sequences, the intensity of the character portrayal, and the tragedy of the story are all iconic, establishing the standard for horror films for years to come.

 Larry Talbot, son of Sir John Talbot, returns from living in the United States to his ancestral home in Wales due to the death of his brother.  Larry is fully Americanized, he has no British accent and is a bit out of pace with the local villages British sensibilities.  He takes an interest in a local girl, Gwen, and goes with her and a friend to have their fortunes read by a band of traveling gypsies.  
Must have made things less confusing for Bela.

 The fortune teller, Bela, sees that Gwen's friend is to be his next victim.  He is a werewolf, and before the three can leave the glen the gypsies are camped in, the girl is attacked.  Larry kills the wolf, but not before being bitten himself.  While a murder investigation ensues, Larry discovers he is now a werewolf, and the body count begins to rise.  

 This film focuses almost entirely on the tragedy of the werewolf.  Larry Talbot was a happy-go-lucky fellow before he was bitten.  He is a good man struggling with a horrible and fantastic secret, one that challenges his very sanity.  By night, he turns into a murderous monster, with no control of his actions or memory of the events.  The story touches upon psychological theories, suggesting a real basis behind the werewolf myth and the power of the mind to create its own reality.  Larry becomes desperate to get someone to believe him and to take appropriate steps to protect the people he loves from the monster he has become, but to no avail.  In the end, he knows that he is going to die, and hopes that it happens before he hurts the ones he loves.  The scene where Larry gives his father the silver-capped cane Larry used to kill the Bela-werewolf is probably the most poignant in the film.  Larry has resigned himself to his fate.
Gonna make her his bitch.

 Curt Soidmak provided most of the common werewolf cannon that is know to horror fans and incorporated into the myth as we know it today.  The phrase introducing this post was his creation, as were the idea that a person bitten by a werewolf becoming a wolf themselves.  Soidmak took credit for creating the werewolf's vulnerability to silver, but that was a part of the myth well before Soidmak's work.

 Lon Chaney Jr. solidified his reputation as an actor with this film, although he failed to exceed the success know by his father, Lon Chaney.  

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  Shoot him an email at sorrellart@hotmail.com

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