Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Maria Ouspenskaya, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Fay Helm
Written By: Curt Siodmak
Directed By: George Waggner
Distributor: Universal Studios
The film begins with a definition of Lycanthropy just to make sure the audience knows what they are getting into. What they didn’t know at the time was this film starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot would blur facts, legends and myths about Werewolves for all time. The story is pretty simple and plays out in seventy minutes. Larry Talbot returns home from America to take over his father’s estate after his elder brother’s demise. Larry meets and falls for Jenny (Fay Helm). He accompanies her and a friend to visit the gypsies to have their fortunes told. Afterward, they are attacked by a wolf and Larry is bitten. Thus begins Larry’s descent into madness because even though he is pure in heart and says his prayers by night Larry becomes a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
The film itself is far from perfect. More often than not you’ll have tons of questions regarding continuity errors and plot holes. Why does the original Wolf Man, played by Bela Lugosi, look more like a wolf than a Wolf Man? How does Larry Talbot go from khakis and tank top to mere moments later being the Wolf Man in a dark jumpsuit (insert Monster Squad joke here)? Let alone how can Claude Rains be the father of Lon Chaney Jr.? Mrs. Talbot must have been a sight to see. Many fans of the film have already pondered these dilemmas but in case you missed a few Film Historian Tom Weaver covers all of them in his commentary track. At times he is very quick but the seventy minute run time is all he is allowed. Weaver also gives a complete history and notable film credits to the supporting cast members. Plus he relates what other buildings, props and title sequences we will see again in the other Universal Horror Classics.
“Monster by Moonlight” is a documentary about the film hosted by John Landis. It has been on other editions before but appropriately it is attached to this Blu-ray as well. What really allows Chaney to stand out amongst his peers is that he was the only actor to ever play the Wolf Man. Yet as it is with any film documentary there are always additional films highlighted that make you wish Universal would give them all this kind of treatment. Make-up Artist Rick Baker is on hand and participates in the documentary regaling us with stories both legend and fact about the incredible make-up process and how it changed for the sequel Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). The true shame is that Baker does not have his own commentary track as he did for the original The Mummy (1932) Legacy DVD.
There are two recycled special features/ documentaries from the other Universal Legacy Series horror DVDs. “He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce” and “Universal Horror” are must watch for any fan of the genre and Universal Horror. The must-see special feature is “Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.”. It points out the parallels between Chaney, his father, the Wolf Man and his father where clearly Chaney drew much of his inspiration from. The documentary also details Chaney’s career and films away from his Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula (Son of Dracula to be precise) days.
Lon Chaney Jr. might have lived in his father’s shadow but a whole generation of people every year discovers the story of a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night that becomes a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
The Wolf Man is included on TheUniversal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection now on Blu-ray!