A Filmmaker's Review: "The Wolf Man" (1941)
5/5 - Classic horror with all the trimmings...
There are certain films which just scream 'classic monster horror' - these films include: "American Werewolf in London" by John Landis, Christopher Lee's "Dracula" and even Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Another film that does this is the legendary 1941 film "The Wolf Man" and I cannot tell you how great and fun I find this film. As someone who is interested in myths and legends of monsters, there are certain things about this movie which make for a deep and involved viewing experience whilst also being fun to watch in all ways.
The film is about a curse and, unlike many films, this one actually goes through the backstory of the curse and how it is received by others. There is a really frightening aspect to this because it is mostly sensory, meaning that only the wolf man can see certain marks on the victim. However, when the wolf man is killed and someone else becomes the wolf man, there is a certain effect which makes them turn back into a human to make them believe that they have actually killed a person. In this fact, the police investigate only to find that the subject is acting crazy and out of order. Suspicion grows and sooner or later, the subject will find out that they are the wolf man.
When we look into the themes of the film we get one that stands out entirely - madness. Madness is a key theme to understanding not that the subject is mad but that the subject is treated as if they were mad. They are ridiculed and not believed even though the subject has been very respected in society before this happened. It has become a strange situation that when Larry returns home after his brother's death, these strange events start to occur. It is weird yes, but treating him like he is the one committing all these events and treating him like he is mad gives a state to the situation which only makes it more dangerous. However, belief in the wolf man is considered a silly belief of myth and fantasy rather than the reality it actually is. A common trope of monster film, it becomes more of a reality due to the crisis the subject experiences at the hands of law enforcement after the murders.
When it comes to characters, all of them fit together perfectly in the story. I think that the best part about it is that it stars not Lon Chaney, but Lon Chaney Jr. The son of the great master of monstrosity takes his father’s inspiration to portray the savagery of the wolf man and makes a brilliant performance out of it. Claude Rains also stars and we all know that I think that he is an amazing actor - he adds so many dimensions to the film, especially where the consideration of madness comes in. I think that Evelyn Ankers did an incredible job at her portrayal of Gwen. She made it three dimensional in the fact that she both believed her boyfriend, but she also did not believe a word about the wolf man. When it came to survival instinct though, Gwen showed that she was up to the challenge of belief - and I think that Evelyn Ankers portrayed this twist in belief brilliantly. There was a lot of emotion involved in that even though it was when the gypsies were leaving and the choice had to take a split second or two. It was still a brilliant performance in that scene.
In conclusion, I think that this film is highly underrated as an absolute classic and that more people need to see it and study the way in which it struggles with belief and reality. It portrays this struggle almost perfectly in an attempt to create an atmosphere where non-believers must be faced with a horrible truth. However, even at the end of the film this belief and whether people do believe becomes obscured behind law enforcement and whether that is done on purpose or not is completely ambiguous. I think that this is the perfect way to tie up the ending seeing as there is not a unanimous belief in the wolf man and in reality, there could never really be.