The Wolf Man (series)
Synopsis of Movie
“Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms,
And the autumn moon is bright.”
Universal expanded its growing roster of creepy movie monsters with 1941’s The Wolf Man. The studio had previously tapped into werewolf lore in 1935’s Werewolf of London, but it was this 1941 feature that made a monster movie favorite out of a heavily-made-up Lon Chaney, Jr., son of Phantom of the Opera star Lon Chaney. With a cast that also included screen legends Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Bela Lugosi, The Wolf Man gave kids (and more than a few adults) yet another reason to be afraid of the dark.
Chaney plays Larry Talbot, the American-educated son of London astronomer Sir John Talbot. While looking through his father’s telescope one night, Larry spots the lovely Gwen Conliffe working in her father’s antique shop. Larry heads over to make his move and ends up buying a silver-handled, wolf’s head cane inscribed with a pentagram…the sign of the werewolf.
A disbelieving Larry laughs off the superstition and asks Gwen to come with him to a traveling gypsy carnival. Gwen agrees, but insists that her best friend Jenny come along, too. At the carnival, Larry and Gwen go out for a walk in the foggy moor, but their flirtations are interrupted by Jenny’s screams. Larry races over to find a hideous wolf, which instantly attacks, biting him on the chest. Larry beats the beast to death with the handle of his cane, but he passes out from his wounds.
When he awakens, Larry finds that not only is Jenny dead, but there is no wolf to be found. Instead, a gypsy fortune teller, whom Larry and pals had met at the carnival, lies dead of a smashed skull. Under suspicion from the chief of police, Larry finds the mother of the slain gypsy, who explains that her son was a werewolf. Now that he’s been bitten, Larry is as well. Both Larry and his father find this impossible to believe, but when the full moon lights up the foggy night, the horrible truth is revealed, and Larry’s uncontrollable murderous streak must be stopped at any price.
Released nearly a decade after Dracula had started the Universal horror cycle, The Wolf Man carried on the tradition proudly. The film was an unqualified smash, terrorizing audiences young and old. In true creature feature form, the popular character returned for a string of sequels, starting with 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
The first of the monster team-up movies, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man finds Larry Talbot still cursed with lycanthropy. The unwilling werewolf seeks out Dr. Frankenstein in hopes that the doctor will be able to kill him, little knowing that Frankenstein himself is now dead. Instead, Larry stumbles across Frankenstein’s Monster, which lies inert in a frozen tomb. With the help of a young scientist, Larry tries to transfer his own life force to the Monster, but the experiment ends up causing a fight to the finish between two of Universal’s most famous monsters.
The team-up idea worked, despite the ill health and heavily-edited performance of co-star Bela Lugosi, who played the Monster. The movie was another big hit, and Universal decided that bigger could only mean better. 1944’s House of Frankenstein and 1945’s House of Dracula followed, adding Dracula to the mix.
House of Frankenstein is actually more of a Boris Karloff picture, as the original Frankenstein actor plays a mad scientist bent on revenge. To hunt down his enemies, Dr. Gustav Niemann first recruits Dracula for his nefarious purposes. Dracula complies, but the sunlight ends his usefulness fairly quickly. With two men left to kill, Dr. Niemann finds and revives the Wolf Man, promising a cure to his lycanthropy if he plays along. With the brains from his victims, Dr. Niemann hopes both to cure Talbot and to revive the Monster, but his plans go horribly awry.
House of Dracula actually allowed all three monsters to share the screen at the same time. This time, both Count Dracula and Lawrence Talbot want to be cured of their monster tendencies, and both turn to psychiatrist Dr. Edelman for help. As a side project, Edelman works on reviving Frankenstein’s Monster, but being surrounded by so many monsters proves too much for his fragile psyche. And once monster madness sets in, monster mayhem is sure to follow.
Universal’s classic horror cycle came to a close with House of Dracula, but the characters’ popularity continued through the decades. The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula all returned for the comedy/horror classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, and the werewolf concept has been used countless times since, from teenage B-flicks like I Was a Teenage Werewolf to gorier, R-rated frighteners like The Howling. Even with a silver bullet (or a wolf’s head cane), you can’t keep a good monster down, and The Wolf Man was, and remains, one of the best.
Movie Release History1941 - The Wolf Man
1943 - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
1944 - House of Frankenstein
1945 - House of Dracula
Movie Sub Categorieslive-action
CastLarry Talbot/The Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr.
Sir John Talbot Claude Rains
Doctor Lloyd Warren William
Colonel Montford Ralph Bellamy
Frank Andrews Patric Knowles
Bela Bela Lugosi
Maleva Maria Ouspenskaya
Gwen Conliffe Evelyn Ankers
Charles Conliffe J.M. Kerrigan
Jenny Williams Fay Helm
Victor Twiddle Forrester Harvey
Gypsy Woman Jessie Arnold
Woman Caroline Cooke
Wykes Harry Cording
Woman Margaret Fealy
Villager Gibson Gowland
Kendall Leyland Hodgson
Villager Olaf Hytten
Gypsy With Bear Kurt Katch
Gypsy Dancer La Riana
Mrs. Wykes Connie Leon
Mrs. Williams Doris Lloyd
Mrs. Bally Ottola Nesmith
Churchgoer Eddie Polo
Phillips Ernie Stanton
Richardson Tom Stevenson
Reverend Norman Harry Stubbs
Chauffeur Eric Wilton