The Wolf Man (1941)

As you watch this movie, understand the pains that Lon Chaney Jr. had to go through for your entertainment. While the stories got exaggerated over the years, even a portion of their truth is a testament to the actor’s herculean patience. Although the effects improved with each movie, this makeup — which was originally developed for Werewolf of London — took five to six hours to apply and a full hour to remove. There were even “finishing nails” carefully hammered into the skin on the sides of the actor’s hands so that they would remain motionless during the transformation scenes, which took ten hours of Chaney getting makeup, going to set to hold still against a pane of glass, then back for more makeup on a day that stretched to twenty-one hours of work over two days of filing.

Larry Talbot has returned to Wales to make peace with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) and falls for a local girl (Evelyn Ankers, Universal’s “Queen of the B’s”).

During their initial meeting, he buys a silver-headed walking stick decorated with a wolf just to get to talk to her while she works. She tells him that it depicts a werewolf, a fact of life that he learns all about when he defends her friend from an attack and gets bitten on the chest as a result.

Soon, he learns from the fortune teller Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) that it was her son Bela (Bela Lugosi!) who bit him. Now, he will live up to the poem that is recited several times during this film: “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

The funny thing is that poem is not an ancient tale; it was written for the movie by screenwriter Curt Siodmak. He based the chasing of Talbot and his life being thrown upside down on his experiences in post-WW II Germany.

Director George Waggner would go on to direct plenty of TV, including episodes of Batman and Cheyenne.

While this film was a success and Larry Talbott (with Chaney playing him) would return for four more films, the character never appeared in its own direct sequel. Joe Johnston would direct a 2010 remake with Benicio del Toro in the lead role. There was also talk that the character would be played by Dwayne Johnson in the planned Dark Universe and Ryan Gosling in a Blumhouse version of the film.

Most of the legends of werewolves come not from folklore but directly from this film, including a person becoming a werewolf through a bite, the weakness to silver bullets, and werewolves’ and their victims’ hands being marked with pentagrams.

Fun fact: A five-year-old Sam asked every child in his kindergarten class to show their palms, as he had told his teacher that he was doing a magic trick for the class. In truth, he was checking to see if any of them were werewolves.

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