I have been working my way through the Universal Classic Monsters Collection for a while. All of these characters are iconic, and every American seems to have been born knowing them. However, I realized that I could not recall seeing a single one of the full movies.
Certainly I’ve had the time — my God, the years, the years! But also the minutes — so far they are all clocking in at the 70-75 minute mark.
More importantly, they are also similar in that their characters did not ask to be in this position and often command our sympathy. They aren’t like Hitler waking up in the morning deciding to be evil. Dracula was bitten by a bat, Franko & wife were sewn together by a mad doctor, the Mummy was revived by an old old scroll, the Wolf Man was actually trying to save a woman from a wolf, and the Invisible Man . . . well, he worked for a pharmaceutical company, so the hell with him.
It is also surprising how little they are in their own movies. The Bride only appears in the last couple of minutes, the Mummy loses the famous bandages almost immediately, and Frankenstein and Dracula both drag when their namesakes are too-often MIA. The Wolf Man is also used sparingly. In original drafts of the script, he was shown even less, it being left to the viewer whether he even existed. Maybe Universal was on to something, using the less-is-more technique it took Spielberg 20 years to rediscover (in another Universal joint).
Larry Talbott goes back to his family home for the first time in 18 years as his brother has fortuitously died in a hunting accident. Due to the kind of crazy European thinking that leads Downton Abbey to near-calamity every season, he now stands to inherit the entire estate rather than approximately squat. Thankfully, he had the good sense to be in America at the time, providing a firm alibi.
The Universal Monster pictures liked to use the same stock players and directors frequently. Here we are seeing several actors from Dracula, The Invisible Man and The Mummy again. No complaint on that except that no one could possibly believe Lon Chaney is the son of Claude Rains. Was his childhood milkman possibly seven feet tall?
Now that dad acknowledges Larry’s existence again (since the first-born son — the preferred one, the “real” Talbot who should have carried on the family name and fortune — was tragically cut down in his prime) they get along well. Dad takes him upstairs to the attic where he has installed a large telescope. It is, apparently, a progenitor of Google Earth as it can also observe from street-level POV despite being in the top of a castle. After Dad leaves the room, Larry like any good son, points the telescope in some chick’s bedroom window. What a scamp.
Having been warped by his years in America, he then thinks the reasonable thing to do is to go to the woman’s job. And tell her he want to buy earrings like the ones on the table in her bedroom. He ends up buying a silver-handled cane, then commences some of the worst flirting every captured on film. But it seems to work as he ends up going out with her and her friend Jenny that night.
Jenny has her palm read by a fortune teller played by Bela Lugosi. Having been typecast as Dracula, he is now reclaiming his identity by playing a character also named Bela. He sees a pentagram in Jenny’s palm which tells us that 1) she is doomed, and 2) Bela is a werewolf (as they are never called wolf men in the movie). Bela scares her off, and she goes running into the woods.
Sure enough, Bela turns into a wolf, and pursues Jenny. Her screams draw Larry who grabs the wolf and wrestles him to the ground. He then uses the silver-handled can to beat it to death. But not before he is bitten by the wolf. It is never explained why Bela turns into a wolf, and Larry turns into a Wolf Man.
Jenny’s body is found, and Bela’s is nearby. He has no shoes on, but is otherwise clothed. Sadly we did not get a good enough look at the wolf to see if he was wearing clothes. Larry’s cane is also found, making him a suspect
Larry sees Gwen and her boyfriend at the travelling show where a woman is dancing for the money they’d throw. Fortunately the Gypsy dancing was not Maria Ouspenskaya, an ancient Gypsy woman who tells Larry the truth about Bela and himself. She gives him a charm to stop him from going all wolfy. Too bad she did not offer this to Bela during their eons together.
Larry should have hung on to the charm himself as he does turn into the titular Wolf Man that night. And so the game is afoot. A pretty hairy foot, as the transformation is shown to start from the toes and go up.
Another good entry from the Universal collection. For a monster that was not rooted in literature, this movie firmly established the Wolf Man as one of the Mount Rushmore figures of horror. This title is one of the better quality Blu-Rays in the collection. Well-shot and atmospheric in its source, it is amazingly clean and grain-free.
- Yes, I know the monster’s name was not Frankenstein. Shut up.
- The constable is played by Ralph Bellamy. While most of these players never survived (literally) to the color era, he went on to be in many movies including major roles in Trading Places and Pretty Woman.
- In IMDb, director George Waggner is credited on many projects as george waGGner.
- The 2010 remake made Wolfman one word. Who says Hollywood has no new ideas.