Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) returns from America to his childhood home in Wales. He soon falls for Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), but before he can get so much as a kiss, another woman is attacked by a wolf and Larry tries to save her. In the process, he is bitten.

Bitten by a wolf? Uh oh! Surely all the werewolf myths people have been telling him aren't real, are they? Are they?

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The Wolf Man is a horror classic and deservedly so. I was expecting "just" a horror film, but George Waggner's is so much more than that. It has impressive levels of depth, empathy and characterisation. The horror itself is secondary, but appropriately, rather than disappointingly so.

Writer Curt Siodmak and Chaney deserve to be singled out for praise. Siodmak has written a script that explores the emotions of someone in a bizarre and extreme situation, rather than simply allowing a monster to run around causing havoc, while Chaney has an exceptional affinity with the character, which shines through.

It's more than a one man show, however. Every actor and actress, from the love interest Ankers to Bela Lugosi, as a mysterious gypsy, turns in a wonderful performance that leaves The Wolf Man with no weak links. Well, maybe just one. Claude Rains, although acting as superbly as everyone else, has been miscast as Larry's father. It requires more suspension of disbelief to accept that they are related than it does to accept that a man can turn into a werewolf.

Although Jack Pierce's work in the make-up department is a stunning display of skill, I have to admit to moments of hilarity. If there's one thing The Wolf Man is not, is scary. Oddly enough, for a horror classic, that doesn't matter at all. The horror isn't so much that of a werewolf killing people, but the personal anguish that Larry is subjected to by his situation.

Such subtlety, in what is the most overt of film genres, is a wonder to behold.

Reviewed on: 21 May 2004
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The Wolf Man packshot
Horror classic, starring Lon Chaney Jr as a werewolf.
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Director: George Waggner

Writer: Curt Siodmak

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Evelyn Ankers, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Ralph Bellamy

Year: 1941

Runtime: 70 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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