By Matt Brunson
THE WOLF MAN
DIRECTED BY George Waggner
STARS Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains
"Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."
For approximately a quarter-century, Universal Pictures was responsible for producing the lion's share of the classic monster movies, atmospheric horror yarns starring such genre superstars as Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Yet even with a canon that includes the definitive versions of (among others) Frankenstein, Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man (1941) has always remained my favorite of the studios' prolific output.
Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Lawrence Talbot, who returns to the British estate of his father (Claude Rains) after having spent the past 18 years in America. While wooing the local beauty (Evelyn Ankers) one evening, he gets bitten by a werewolf and eventually succumbs to the curse himself.
Like most of the Universal crop, this intelligent and sophisticated picture unfortunately sports a brief running time (70 minutes), but the screenplay by Curt Siodmak manages to pack the proceedings with all manner of intriguing developments, including discussions on the duality of man as well as the place of superstition in a God-fearing world. Jack Pierce's makeup design is superb, and the strong cast also includes Ralph Bellamy as the local constable, Lugosi as a doomed fortune teller, and Maria Ouspenskaya as the gypsy woman who attempts to help Larry.
The two-disc DVD, part of the studio's Legacy Series line, includes several of the extras included in the previous set from 2004; these include audio commentary by film historian Tom Weaver; the 33-minute piece Monster by Moonlight; and original publicity material. New features include tributes to Chaney Jr. (37 minutes) and Pierce (25 minutes); the 95-minute documentary Universal Horror; and a 10-minute featurette on the mythology of werewolves.
For more DVD recommendations, check out the View from the Couch column in this weeks print edition of Creative Loafing.