Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Wolf Man (Waggner. 1941)

"On the Mt. Rushmore of movie monsters, Larry Talbot would have the Thomas Jefferson spot up there next to Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy."

What can a person do on an incredibly low budget? In the modern film industry a movie with a minuscule budget would find getting publicity very difficult. This was not the case in 1941 when George Waggner's The Wolf Man was filmed on a budget of $180,000. His production company, Universal Pictures, was suffering from losses on their previous films. So it was imperative that The Wolf Man was a hit. With a tiny budget and limited studio backing, Waggner was able to create one of the most lasting films on the entire 1077 Films to See Before You Die.

Again, it is important to stress the very small amount of money the studio allowed for filming this picture. Most films would have folded under the intense pressure that was thrust upon The Wolf Man , but Waggner's vision was much more than a B-movie. He compiled some of the most acclaimed actors of the time to help keep his film above water. Academy Award nominated performers like Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Maria Ouspenskaya make up the supporting cast, and the lead role is played by a man with a legacy all of his own.

Lon Chaney Jr. was an actor that was born into monster films. His father, screen legend Lon Chaney, was one of the quintessential monsters in the early days of horror films. Though Jr. had an acting career of his own to boast, it was not difficult to see why Universal would want him to follow in his father's footsteps. He plays the title character with a frightful submissiveness that demands your sympathy. He is cursed by the Werewolf. He did not ask for this to happen. But he cannot stop it. He is doomed. And we feel for him.

Another interesting aspect of The Wolf Man is the make-up. This was all done by the famous make-up artist, Jack Pierce. He used unusual things like cotton and yak fur for one of the most memorable monsters in all of film. Though it may look hokey now, we have to remember that CGI and advanced make-up techniques did not exist yet. Those are the things that Pierce pioneered. Also, the studio famously censored the make up of the Wolf Man. They were afraid that making Chaney look too beastly would frighten people a little too much. So Pierce was required to tone the wolf-like appearance down. It has been said that the main character looked more like a hog than a wolf, but with the proper mindset- it is a very impressive display of skill by Jack Pierce.

All-in-all I have seen much more frightening films than The Wolf Man. But its importance to film is uncanny. With an accomplished cast and an iconic premise, Waggner and Chaney Jr. helped craft one of the most used genres in all of film. Horror was never the same again.

The Wolf Man: C

My Next Film....Naked Lunch (Cronenberg. 1991)

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