The Wolf Man (1941) – Review

By: Cal Meacham

In a secondary role, Bela Legosi plays a Mr. Pringle looking nautical pirate gypsy named…….wait for it……Bela.  Oh and there is a story about werewolves.

After the death of his brother, Larry Talbot returns home to his father to rebuild their frayed relationship.  While perving out on his fathers telescope…….he spots a beautiful woman in her apartment above her father’s store.  Larry doesn’t think twice about his actions being slightly disturbing and decides to go into town to meet the woman at the other end of the telescope.  Inside the shop Larry puts on his best moves with Gwen the shop girl aka one of the creepiest flirting scenes in cinema history and we learn two important lessons: 3 No’s actually equals a Yes and chicks really dig it when you peep on them with a telescope and then tell them about it.

At the shop Larry secures a date with Gwen to the Gypsy fair which had rolled into town and purchases a walking stick as well (pretty standard afternoon).  The walking stick has the head of a wolf on it which spurns Gwen to recite the folk-lore words “Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”  These words which are repeated a few times in the film set a mood that this tiny village has had issues in its past.  Images of pentagrams and folk tales of werewolves are just a few signs that while the villagers might not believe all the superstitions and of supernatural powers (which is usually reserved for gypsy talk) they know there are many things beyond their control.  Knowing this sets the movie down two distinct paths which unfold shortly after the shop scene.

In the evening Larry meets up with Gwen and her friend Jenny and they attend the Gypsy fair as a group.  Jenny decides that she wants to have her fortune told by a gypsy so Larry and Gwen take a moonlight stroll.  A scream echo’s out from the woods and Larry rushes to location of the noise only to find Jenny and a creature attacking her. Larry strikes the creature with his cane, killing it but he was too late to save Jenny’s life.  During the fracas Larry sustains a sizeable cut to his chest so he returns home before the police arrive at the scene, to receive medical attention.  The next morning the doctor stops in to check in on Larry but strangely the cut to his chest has disappeared.  Larry explains to the doctor that he was attacked by the wolf that killed Jenny and he doesn’t know why the cut has seemingly gone away.  The doctor has a discussion with the local police and it is revealed that there wasn’t a dead wolf found, but instead the body of a gypsy was found dead from a blow to the head.   The doctor plants the seed that maybe Larry was having some psychological issues and that the existence of a wolf might have been totally made up.

The Universal Monster movies aren’t known for their complex plots so this second level of script in The Wolf Man gives it depth and intrigue.  You ping-pong from a hunt for a rogue killer wolf to the idea of a murderer.  It isn’t all just thrills and actors in makeup.  The mistake that the film makes is in not taking this concept further so as to leave the suspense going until the final frame.  I mean come on, they plastered the Wolf Man on the cover of the movie so it is hard to believe that it would have any other outcome.

The makeup of the werewolf isn’t up to par with the costuming in The Creature From The Black Lagoon, but it is decent for the time.  Most of the movie is done without seeing the face of the werewolf and the transformations scenes work well enough to be effective.  A lot of the actors were buried in a haze of fog and darkness so an elaborate set design, costumes and cinematography seems like a waste.

It is a monster movie and it does all the right things to retain that status while digging a little bit deeper.  I wish the big plot point was handled differently but the final frame of the movie rights most of that wrong and is devoid of spoon fed time wasting.  Maybe it is time that we all invest in a telescope, you never know where your life will go from there.

Score – 7.5/10

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4 thoughts on “The Wolf Man (1941) – Review

  1. Pingback: Monster Movie Time | First Order Historians

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