“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers at night can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright.” Curt Siodmak penned that poem over 60 years ago as the centerpiece for a film that was to feature Boris Karloff. The film was to be called “Destiny” and provide Karloff with a less lumbering creature than his Frankenstein’s monster. The project was put on hold and would eventually re-emerge as “The Wolf Man”, this time starring the son of the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney, Jr. Chaney would later in life claim this as his favorite role because unlike the Monster or the Mummy it was “completely my own”.
Larry Talbot returns to his father’s home as the next baron of his Welsh town. He is smitten by the local shopkeeper’s daughter (Ankers). When he kills a wolf only later to discover it to be a man (Lugosi) he becomes tormented by the prospect of becoming a werewolf himself.
The audio is a digital version of the original mono soundtrack. The music comes through splendidly for the film’s age. Although harsh in the high range at times the dialogue is always clear with no distortion present.
There is an audio commentary by film historian and magazine columnist Tom Weaver. Although it is not as informative as other Universal commentaries, Weaver does hit on most of the better known stories behind the making of the film. He spends considerable time talking about Chaney and the demons that paralleled his life with that of Talbot.
The Wolf Man is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The print is one of Universal’s best and has few of the defects found in the older material. The picture is almost always clean and sharp. Blacks are usually pretty deep and well defined; however, some of the forest shots and the fog effects did not translate well. I was especially pleased at how well Jack Pearce’s make-up detail was preserved in this transfer. The hair texture is quite effective.
As with most of the Universal Classic Monster Collection there is a new feature produced by David Skaal. “Monster by Moonlight” features the most in-depth view yet on the origins of the film and the life of Lon Chaney, Jr. It is most touching to hear Ron Chaney, Lon’s grandson, talk about his grandfather’s passion for the role.
There is a montage of stills set to the trademark Wolfman score. The music would continue to appear in Universal films for almost 20 more years. Bios, trailers, production notes, and web links round out the features.
Lon Chaney’s best performance in the Wolfman surprisingly is not his portrayal of the title monster. His true acting achievement has to be the tortured Larry Talbot. The depth of this role harks to his emotional Lenny from “Of Mice and Men”. You’ll also enjoy the interplay with Evelyn Ankers and of course his father played by Claude Rains. The gypsy might just as well have been talking about Chaney when she tells the dead Talbot: “The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own.”