Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Movie of the Week: The Wolf Man!

Note: this was supposed to be posted last Saturday, but for whatever reason, I didn't publish the draft... so here it is!

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As I promised last week, we're taking a short break from the Frankenstein saga this weekend so that the Wolf Man can get in here -- especially since the next Frankenstein movie is "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (we'll be taking a longer break after that so I can present the Dracula saga to date before we get to "House of Frankenstein").



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The Wolf Man propelled Lon Chaney Jr. to fame... born Creighton Chaney, after his famous father's passing he tried to make a movie career himself, but it wasn't until he changed to the nom de plume we're more familar with did he start achieving any kind of success.

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"Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the moon is shining bright."

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That line of verse, with some variations, occurs in pretty much every movie with The Wolf Man in it... and indeed, most of what we think of as standard werewolf lore comes right out of this movie! Although the whole curse of the werewolf is presented here as purely supernatural, bizarrely, in the later films featuring Chaney's furry alter ego, a purely scientific cure is sought (although the traditional method of killing is usually all that stops the beast).

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At the beginning of the film, we're introduced to Laurence Talbot, played by Chaney Jr, who's coming home after a long stay in America (explaining his lack of British accent, no doubt).

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It's not too long before poor Laurence is bitten by a werewolf, and the curse afflicts him! If I recall correctly, the werewolf that bites him is named Bela, and Bela's mother is Maleeva of the gypsies. Bela is portrayed by Bela Lugosi, although I'm not sure if it was Lugosi in werewolf makeup.

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Once Laurence realizes he's become a werewolf, he goes to Maleeva for help, but of course, she has no help for him, other than death. The pentagram is on Talbot's palm, and every night, as the moon rises, he becomes the Wolf Man!

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Of course, another problem Talbot has is that nobody in his family wants to believe him... but they discover the truth soon enough!

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Lon Chaney, Jr. is probably best known for playing Laurence Talbot, but his most critical acclaim came in playing Lennie in "Of Mice and Men". Both parts would tend to haunt him... the Wolf Man (whom he portrayed again in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," "House of Frankenstein", "House of Dracula" and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein") seemed to have stereotyped him for playing monsters (indeed, he also played the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula and the Mummy before he was done!), and Lennie got the studios thinking he could only play stupid but strong types. Still, he had a pretty long-lived career, from his first regular movie work in the 1930s until his final movie appearance in "Frankenstein Vs. Dracula" in 1971. Plus, in the 1960s, he appeared on an episode of "The Monkees," which helps tie two of my interests together!

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You can watch the Castle Films digest version of The Wolf Man by clicking here.

Next week, we're back to Frankenstein as we check out "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man!" And in the meantime, if I've misremembered any details of "The Wolf Man," please put them into the comments... it's been a while since I've seen it, after all!

Jon

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