Friday, May 6, 2016

Even a Man Who is Pure in Heart, or Thoughts on Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man

Lon Chaney Jr’s signature performance is actually the second incarnation of the classic Universal Monster, The Wolf Man (1941) is technically a remake of Werewolf of London (1935), starring Henry Hull.  It’s also easy to forget that this is a contemporary horror movie for its time, with modern theories on psychology and hypnosis presented as an explanation for the werewolf, although the story is set in a rural English village with horses and gamekeepers.  The superstition vs science debate is front and center in this fast paced movie with Claude Raines, Ralph Bellamy and Bela Lugosi as a Gypsy fortune teller.
Curt Siodmark’s screenplay provides a moody and gothic tale in a way that the 2010 remake never achieved.  It was also cheap, this was the Golden Age, when Hollywood was considered the dream factory and studios churned out a feature film a week.  They were efficient filmmakers and expert storytellers, and less investment meant more room for experimentation and innovation. 
Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot supplies a sincere and enthusiastic performance.  He’s not a great actor but had a frantic intensity and an everyman quality that won him popular appeal.  Claude Rains provides level-headed exposition on the history and psychology of werewolves as Sir John Talbot.  A romantic sub-plot adds a tragic element to a fast paced story.  At its heart, The Wolf Man is a doomed romance with a mutual attraction between Larry and Gwen, as played by 30’s ingĂ©nue Evelyn Ankers. 
He meets her in village where everyone believes in werewolves and quotes that poem except for Lawrence Talbot, who has never heard of them.  Tragedy ensues when he’s attacked by a werewolf and inherits the Gypsy curse through no fault of his own.  Even if you have never seen the movie, you know what will happen next.

Lon Chaney Jr’s career spanned five decades, from his first appearance in The Trap (1922) to his final performance as the Monster in Frankenstein vs. Dracula (1971).  The painstaking transformation by Jack Pierce into the iconic wolf man that became a US stamp in 1997 is still relevant and exciting to watch today.  It’s almost stop motion, gluing individual yak hairs to the actor and building up layers frame by frame.  In the final process it’s not even a full body suit, simply hands, feet and a head, but sometimes that’s all you need to become a legend. 


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.