Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Wolf Man
The Wolf Man is a 1941 horror film written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Wagger , staring Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers , Ralph Bellamy, Patrick Knowels , Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. It introduced a character that stands alongside Frankenstein and Dracula as the most recognized Universal Studios monsters and has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood's depictions of the legend of the werewolf.
Lawrence "Larry" Talbot (Chaney) returns to his ancestral home in Llanwelly, Wales to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot (Rains). While there Larry becomes romantically interested in a local girl named Gwen Conliffe (Ankers). On a night of a full moon, he attempts to rescue her from what he thinks is a wolf. He kills the beast with a silver-headed walking stick, but is bitten in the process. He soon discovers that it wasn’t just a wolf; it was a werewolf, and now Talbot has become one. A Roma fortuneteller named Maleva (Ouspenskaya) reveals to Larry that the animal which bit him was actually her son Bela (Lugosi) in the form of a wolf. Bela had been a werewolf for years and now the curse of lycanthropy has been passed to Larry. Throughout the film Larry is told by Maleva:
(Contrary to popular belief, this poem was not an ancient legend, but was in fact an invention of screenwriter Siodmak.)
Sure enough, Talbot prowls the countryside in the form of a two-legged wolf, struggling to overcome the curse, until he is bludgeoned to death by his own walking stick wielded by his father. As he dies, he returns to human form.
It was The Wolf Man that introduced the concepts of werewolves being vulnerable to silver (in traditional folklore, it’s more effective against vampires), the werewolf's forced shapeshifting under a full moon, and being marked with a pentagram (a symbol of the occult and of Satanism). These are considered by many as part of the original folklore of the werewolf, even though they were created for the film. Unlike the werewolves of legend, which resemble true wolves, the Wolf Man was a kind of hybrid creature. It stood erect like a human, but had the fur, teeth and claws of a wolf. There had been similar depictions of werewolves in several earlier movies but this was by far the most influential, and subsequent movies have built on this image.
The transformation of Chaney from man into monster was laborious, requiring him to sit still as makeup man Jack Pierce glued layers of yak hair to his face. Then several frames of film were shot, more layers were applied, and so on. Talbot’s stop motion transformation on screen only took seconds, while Chaney’s took six hours.
The Wolf Man proved popular, and so Chaney reprised his now-signature role in four more Universal films, though unlike his contemporaries he never enjoyed the chance to have a sequel all to himself. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943) had Talbot’s grave opened on a full moon night, causing him to rise again. He seeks out Dr. Frankenstein for a cure, but finds the monster (Bela Lugosi) instead. The two square off at the climax, but the fight ends in a draw when a dam is exploded and Frankenstein’s castle is flooded. In House of Frankenstein (1944), Talbot is once again resurected and is promised a cure via a brain transplant, but ends up shot with a silver bullet instead. He returns (with no explanation) in House of Dracula (1945), and is finally cured of his condition. But he was afflicted once again, in the comedy film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). This time the Wolf Man was a hero of sorts, saving Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) from having his brain transplanted by Dracula (Bela Lugosi) into the head of the monster (Glenn Strange). Grabbing the vampire as he turned into a bat, the Wolf Man dived over a balcony into the sea.
The Wolf Man has the distinction of being the only classic Universal monster to be played by the same actor in all his classic 1940s film appearances.
The poem recited by Maleva is used in each of Chaney's subsequent appearances as the Wolf Man, with the exception of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; it is also recited by a character in Van Helsing (2004), which featured modernized reinterpretations of the classic Universal Studios monsters.
As in most of Universal’s classic monsters, the appeal of the Wolf Man lies in the humanity beneath the horror. Lawrence Talbot was tormented with the knowledge that he became a savage beast with a lust to kill. Only death could set him free but, as the sequels proved, just temporarily. He is the quintessential reluctant monster.
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