It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Halloween 2, part 5: The Wolf Man (1941)

Named part 5 because, although he chose not to title it such, I believe Scott's Mephisto Waltz/Images post was part of this whole spooky thing (and I tagged it accordingly).  Anyway - The Wolf Man!  You know the Wolf Man.  You love the Wolf Man.  You, like me, are even slightly excited for the upcoming "reimagining".

It's been a long time - too long - since I've watched this film, so I decided to throw it on tonight.  And it paid off in spades; unlike some of the other Universal monster films, The Wolf Man has not dated at all.  It seems fresh as a daisy.  And I found many interesting things about this particular film that I had never noticed before....

The Wolf Man, unlike any other of the Universal monsters, is both the man and the beast.  Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Mummy - these are all solely creatures, given over to evil, with no semblance of the man left, merely the monster.  But the Wolf Man is a man by day and a monster by night.  The story is both timely and timeless.

This tale is played out much less like a modern horror fable, but references mysteries of the time, something like Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, even down to the fog shrouded woods.

There is something strange in the casting of Claude Rains (of The Invisible Man fame), for he appears in the film as almost a contemporary of Lon Chaney Jr., even though they are supposed to be father and son.  Clearly, Universal was trying to cash in on the marquee billing of Rains.  What is even more interesting is that Rains acts circles around Chaney to the point where their scenes together feel almost awkward, as if John Gielgud was alongside Adam Sandler.

However, there is a very curious and appealing quality about Chaney; although his acting chops are laughable, there is a strange feeling to his role that is almost indescribable.  We see two Chaney's on screen, the ACTOR, and LON CHANEY, Jr., at this point deep into his battle with alcoholism.  The actor is superficial, and through this gauzy scrim we see the real man, his desperation and sadness; I can't be entirely certain that the director/producers cast him for this reason, but these are the perfect characteristics of the Wolf Man.  The man who, through no fault of his own, is bound to a fatal course.  The man who, merely because the sun rises and sets with each day, is transformed from a gentleman into a monster.  The dual man.  The natural man.  This is what is fascinating about the Wolf Man - it is an elemental tale in the way that no other Universal monster story is; Dracula and The Mummy deal with the supernatural; Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Creature speak of science gone awry; but the Wolf Man...the Wolf Man - the primal beast, the two-sided man - is rooted in nature, and is therefore real.

Believe in the myth or not, but, as Rains says in the film, "All legends have their basis in fact".  Whether it is physically possible for a man to turn into a wolf is up for debate.  But believe that every person has the wolf within, and whether or not this becomes physically manifest, the fact is the animal remains, waiting to be unleashed.  This, for me, is Universal's crowning achievement in the "monster" genre - sure, Dracula is sexier, The Mummy and the Creature are more terrifying, Frankenstein's monster and the Invisible Man are more fantastic, but the Wolf Man is real.  And it is no small coincidence that I watched this film on the night of the full moon...Awoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

1 comment:

La Sporgenza said...

Great movie... the last of Universal's big horror films. The script writer, Curt Siodmak (brother of one of the era's best directors, Robert Siodmak) pens some of his best work here. He went on to do many other great horror flicks (I Walked with a Zombie comes to mind) but this is the one he's best remembered for. The MPAA of the day censored the film saying the Wolfman couldn't be too "bestial" or transform from man-to-beast during the film. He could (and does), however transform back. How weird is that?