'The Wolf Man': Read THR's 1941 Review
"A very substantial cast undertakes to sell believably a tale of superstitious folklore"
On Dec. 10, 1941, The Hollywood Reporter appraised the latest of Universal's monster films, finding much to like in the title but wary of audience reaction. Read the review below, originally headlined, "Wolf Man Horrific Tale - Possibly Too Much So For Present Day."
The Wolf Man serves its horror straight. A very substantial cast undertakes to sell believably a tale of superstitious folklore — the one about the werewolf — and producer-director George Waggner dresses it up with all the craft at the command of a studio practiced in spinning horror yarns. Still it is impossible to guess how the public will accept The Wolf Man in these times.
Curt Siodmak's original screenplay brings Larry Talbot back to join his father in an English ancestral castle that has remained unchanged for 300 years. Beliefs haven't changed much either, and the superstitious people are quite willing to subscribe to the theory that a man bitten by a werewolf turns into a werewolf himself. And that is what happens to Larry. He is bitten, he does turn, and the only thing his father can do about it is to beat him to death with a silver-headed cane, for — mind you — werewolfs can't be killed by anything that is not silver.
Siodmak's dialog valiantly attempts to justify the weird circumstances. There is a doctor character who rationalizes in this manner, "A man lost in the maze of his own mind can imagine himself anything." The players are equally determined to take matters seriously, and the script is generous in providing them more than enough to worry about. Waggner's production is lavish with atmospheric effects, and his direction completely able in blending together many diverse elements. It is the kind of a job that calls for keen perspective to bring off at all.
Lon Chaney assumes the really terrifying makeup created by Jack P. Pierce and bears favorable comparison to his esteemed father. And he is pleasantly personable as the untransformed Larry. Claude Rains lends dignity to the elder Talbot, Warren William impresses as Dr. Lloyd and Ralph Bellamy scores soundly as director of the community's law enforcement officers. Evelyn Ankers is a lovely, intelligent heroine, but she might have been rescued with greater dispatch had her screams for help been drowned in the accompanying musical score. Smart is the touch of Gypsy mysticism introduced in the character played by Maria Ouspenskaya. Destined to be brought to sudden ends are the roles in which Bela Lugosi and Fay Helm appear.
Technically the picture is strangely beautiful in the low-key photography by Joseph Valentine and the stunning art direction by Jack Otterson and Robert Boyle.