So I finally watched “The Wolf Man” (1941) for the first time a few nights ago, and I indeed had a lot of fun with it. Sure, it’s tame by today’s standards, and bit corny too, but it was interesting watching Lon Chaney, Jr. for the first time and seeing the granddaddy of all werewolf films.
Here are a few things that jumped out at me while watching the film and reading a bit about it afterward (and, yes, I do realize that most people already knew these things):
- I knew I recognized the senior Talbot — it’s actor Claude Rains, who was none other than Louis in the following year’s “Casablanca.”
- Chaney was a big man. He is almost always both the tallest and broadest character on screen, and for some reason that surprised me. Maybe it’s because that in the posters and other media I’ve seen, the Wolf Man always seems smaller in comparison to Dracula, Frankenstein or the Phantom of the Opera. I half expected the diminutive Rains to become the Wolf Man, while Chaney’s character would become the hero who has to protect the girl, etc.
- This is weird … but Chaney bears has a strong resemblance to my best friend from early childhood, Shawn — who also grew up to be a big guy like the actor. It’s uncanny. It’d be nuts if Shawn were his great grandson, and we just never knew it.
- It was a little odd seeing Rains cast as Chaney’s character’s father, as he didn’t seem much older. Rains was only 17 years older than Chaney.
- The old gypsy man is played by Bela Lugosi.
- Rains is easily the best actor here, followed by Maria Ouspenskaya as the old gypsy woman.
- This seminal film was not the first Universal Pictures werewolf movie. That would be “Werewolf of London,” which preceded it by six years. That movie is the one that inspired the 1978 “Werewolves of London” song by Warren Zevon, as well as John Landis’ 1981 masterpiece, “An American Werewolf in London.”
- The Wolf Man monster was made famous for a certain onscreen transformation that represented groundbreaking special effects for its time — the gradual transformation of the monster’s face on camera. But that key effects sequence didn’t appear here in the 1941 original — only in its several sequels.
- The movie was released on December 9, 1941, just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.