The Werewolves

The Wolf Man (1941)

The Wolf Man (1941) unlike Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) had no direct literary source and was purely the invention of screenwriter, Curt Siodmak. Much of the Hollywood folklore regarding werewolves and wolf men can be attributed to Siodmak’s screenplay The Wolf Man (1941). Many of the modern myths concerning werewolves, such as a person becoming werewolf after being bitten by one, changing into a werewolf during a full moon, the concept of a silver bullet being the only way to kill a werewolf and the famous poem repeated throughout the film were all the products for Siodmak’s imagination.
Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.

This poem, contrary to popular belief, was not from Eastern European folklore but was actually written by Siodmak.

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man ( Universal Studios)

The Wolf Man (1941) was produced and directed by George Waggner and stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as "The Wolf Man" and features Claude Rains, Béla Lugosi, who would play a very minor role, and Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya. 

The makeup created by  Jack Pierce was originally intended for Henry Hull’s  character in Werewolf of London (1935), but Hull refused to submit to the tedious hours required apply the makeup. Pierce, therefore developed a less hairy version for Werewolf of London (1935), saving the more elaborate version for The Wolf Man (1941) this version of course would be honored years later by becoming part of US Postal Services monster stamp collection.

In the original screenplay there was a scene of the wolf man fighting a bear. However this scene was never finished due to the fact that the bear ran away during filming, but not before chasing actress Evelyn Ankers up the soundstage rafters. Chaney added to Ankers anxiety during production by sneaking up behind her in full wolf man makeup and scaring her. But Chaney had his own problems with the makeup application which required six hours in the chair and removing the makeup required an additional three hours.

Despite the difficulties with the grueling make up process, Chaney gave an outstanding performance as both Larry Talbert, the prodigal son and the monstrous wolf man.  The wolf man was a role for which Chaney will forever be associated with, a role which he will reprise in four additional films for Universal. Chaney has the distinction of being the only actor to play the wolf man during Universal’s horror cycle and is also the only actor to play all four of Universal’s top classic monsters, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster.

Universal had worried that The Wolf Man (1941) would flop at the box office, since the film had not been based on a direct literary source and the Werewolf of London (1935) released six years earlier had been a disappointment. To make matters worse, The Wolf Man (1941) was released just five days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Universal had doubts whether or not the American movie audience would have an appetite for horror films after the bombing.

But thanks to Siodmak’s screenplay, Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance, and Jack Pierce’s iconic werewolf make-up The Wolf Man (1941) became one of Universal’s biggest hits for 1942 and firmly established Lon Chaney Jr. as a horror film icon.


Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Screenwriter Curt Siodmak was having lunch with producer George Waggner at the Universal commissary. During their lunch Siodmak told Waggner that he needed a down payment for a new car and jokingly told him that he had a great title for a new film “Frankenstein Wolfs the Meatman".  Later that day Waggner called Siodmak to his office and told him to change the title to “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” and go buy the car.   With that Siodmak went to work on Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), which became the sequel both to The Wolf Man (1941) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).

Lon Chaney Junior was selected to return and reprise his role as the Wolfman and at one point the producers had planned to have Chaney play Frankenstein’s monster as well. However due to the extensive makeup demands and scheduling logistics that plan was dropped. The producers turned to Bela Lugosi, who accepted the role of the monster. Ironically he had turned down the role of Frankenstein’s monster 12 years earlier due to the fact the monster had no dialogue. In the original version of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) the monster did have dialogue. But the dialogue was cut after preview audiences found the monster’s lines humorous due to Lugosi’s Hungarian accent.  

Lugosi’s age also proved to be a disadvantage for him, he turned 60 during the production. Stuntman Gil Perkins was hired to do the stunt work for the aging actor in the action scenes and in the scene of the monster being released from the ice, as a result Lugosi’s total screen time was less than six minutes.

With the monsters dialogue deleted, all references to the monster being blind, a side effect of Ygor’s brain being transplanted into the monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) were left out.  As a result audiences found Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) confusing and hard to follow and Lugosi’s performance became the subject of ridicule by audiences and critics alike.  It was Lugosi’s portrayal of the blind monster that created indelible image of Frankenstein’s monster walking with his arms outstretched
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) had marked a downward turn for the quality of Universal’s horror production and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) continued the downward spiral. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) would be the first pairing of two monsters in one film and the last time that Frankenstein’s monster would play a major role in a Universal horror film. Despite its flaws and criticisms, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) became one of Universal Studios highest grossing films in 1943 and remains a favorite with horror fans today.

She –Wolf of London (1946)

She-Wolf of London (1946) was not really a werewolf movie at all, but rather a murder mystery. She-Wolf of London (1946) (UK title: Curse of the Allenbys) was produced by Universal Studios, directed by Jean Yarbrough and starred June Lockhart, who is remembered for her roles  as the mother in two hit TV series, Lassie and Lost in Space. The film stars Don Porter, who played Russell Lawrence in ABC comedy series Gidget, and Lloyd Corrigan, who was not only film and television actor, but a producer, screenwriter, and director as well.  Corrigan’s short musical film La Cucaracha (1934) won an Academy Award in 1935 for Best Short Subject (Comedy).

Filming completed in just three weeks on Christmas Eve 1945 and She-Wolf of London (1946) was released on May 17, 1946, as part of a double bill with The Cat Creeps (1946).  This low budget thriller was the last Universal horror film to be released during the studio’s golden age.


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