Digging into my Universal Monsters: The Essential Collection, I was, as I typically am, first and foremost drawn to The Wolf Man. This is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the movie that made me fall in love with Lon Chaney Jr. as a performer. It’s one of the two early Universal monsters to actually frighten me. I’m a werewolf guy, and this is one of the greatest werewolf films in existence, plain and simple.
Somehow, we haven’t covered the film on the site. We’re so tangled up attempting to keep up with weekly submissions that those chances to rewind the clock become few and far between and sometimes we neglect the masterworks that brought us to this very place in life.
Tonight we travel back in time.
Lawrence Talbot returns home for the first time in years after his brother’s passing. There’s a little tension between Larry and his father, but the relationship isn’t what I’d deem as legitimately strained. Larry’s going to one day inherit the estate, his old man seems wide open to catching up on lost years. Things really don’t look too bad for Lawrence, initially, and the father-son bonding looks to be working wonders for both men.
And then a girl enters the picture, and the wheels of the disaster express are already in motion. Young Talbot is not the shy type, and he makes that known immediately, as he pursues a lovely lady he spots from afar. He’s got the charm oozing out of every pore, right from the jump.
This lovely lady, Gwen (the sultry Evelyn Ankers), is, unknowingly, both the catalyst for disaster, and the beacon of hope. She’s the one whose looks and warm demeanor are powerful enough to lead Talbot out into the foggy night in pursuit of her affection, where he’s attacked and bitten by a werewolf. But Gwen’s also the one who sold him his new cane, which has werewolf markings of some kind and a silver head – an obvious weapon against werewolves. A weapon that Talbot is forced to use.
I’ll call a halt to the breakdown of the story right here, because this is the buildup that those short in the attention span category might consider slow. Now, consider yourself caught up and dropped right in the center of the conflict. Larry Talbot’s troubles only increase – significantly – from this point forward. His present will quickly threaten to destroy his future, and there may only be one may to prevent a worst case scenario from unfolding.
Larry’s a good guy, and he obviously never has any intention of hurting those around him. He hates the monster that he’s become, and it eats away at him from the inside. And Chaney’s work of exhibiting torment is still awe inspiring. This is a man who could – in his finer years – hold his own with today’s versatile and complex performers. It’s a shame he doesn’t generally garner the praise he rightfully earned.
The film has an amazingly grim atmospheric tone to it that is unmistakably eerie. The heavy fog, the echoes from the sound stage, the low lighting – it all comes together in flawless fashion to gift us one of the more disrupting pictures from Universal’s earlier days. The new restoration job here is pure brilliance, the image never before this crisp, the sound clear as crystal. It’s amazing, and while Dracula is an arguably superior restoration, The Wolf Man gets my vote for the best makeover.
There are a load of bonus features to take in, and they’re all worth a look and feature some very prominent genre familiars. From John Landis to Mick Garris and damn near everywhere in between, the horror heavies weigh in on The Wolf Man, the idea of the werewolf and Lon Chaney Jr himself. There’s strong material here and if you’re tuning into a film like The Wolf Man, you want to check it out
Here’s a list of the bonus supplements:
Monster by Moonlight
The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth –
Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.
He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce
The Wolf Man Archives
100 Years of Universal: The Lot
Optional commentary track featuring film historian Tom Weaver
Movie Rating: 5/5
Blu-ray Rating: 5/5