Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: The Wolfman




“Even a man who is pure at heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.” (The Wolfman)

This is the well-known saying that is at the heart of the 1941 Universal Studios film The Wolfman. This film completes the quartet of monsters that are at the heart of the Universal horror franchise: the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and the Wolfman. While there were certainly other creatures and monsters in the films in this time period, these are the four most prominent.

While we see science run out of control and ancient evils in the other films, in The Wolfman, we view a story of tragedy that is focused on an ordinary man, Larry Talbot, who is swept up in unfortunate events beyond his control. Because he is bitten by a werewolf while trying to save a girl and lives, Larry Talbot is fated to become such a beast himself.

The director and producer was George Waggner, and the writer was Kurt Siodmak. Most of our contemporary views about werewolf behavior do not come from ancient traditions or medieval European beliefs but from the mythology that Siodmak created for this movie. Siodmak created the idea that the time of the full moon is when a werewolf takes it form and that to become one, a person must be bitten by a werewolf and survive.



More importantly, he included elements of tragedy, of a man fated to murder and to be destroyed, despite his desire to be a good person. The incantation the gypsy woman Maleva intones over Larry Talbot after his death illustrates this theme:

“The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.” (The Wolfman)

Siodmak also addressed contemporary issues, specifically the idea of a star marking the next victim of a werewolf, much like a star marking the Jewish people of Europe by the Nazis. Siodmak was a German Jew who had been successful as a writer but had to flee Germany with the take over by the Nazis. While the reference is not direct, it is still a clear metaphor for the horrors of the Nazis. The film demonstrates that evil is both natural and human created.



In addition to excellent writing, the cast was also of the very best. Along side the star Lon Chaney Jr. were Clause Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Evelyn Ankers. Jack Pierce, as in the other main Universal horror films, created the unforgettable makeup that is the foundation for all other filmic and literary werewolves.



It was a film that was excellent in every level of production, and it maintains its excellence today.




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35 thoughts on “Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: The Wolfman

  1. An interesting and thorough review, Charles. I always felt sympathetic towards people who become monsters by events beyond their control. I suppose I should include vampires in that, but when I was young, the thought of vampires freaked me out too much to feel sorry for them. I did like the Wolfman, and the film had some great actors in it. I particularly remember Lon Chaney Jn, Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi – more of my mum’s favourites (though none could compare to Boris Karloff, as I said in a previous comment).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another fine review , Charles. These four monsters were the best for so many years. I remember as a kid, always wanting to get all four models of them so that I could glue and put them together up on my dresser. Then my cousin sub-lit them with a green light, and at night… that freaked me out just lying there in the dark staring at them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Enjoyable review. The one drawback of getting older is a duller memory. Now I know I must have seen The Wolf Man because I loved the horror genre back in the day but the details completely escape me. This is another one to add to my growing list. The one thing I might add is I miss real horror movie because the horror of today is too violent and gory for my tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember watching this movie on TV as a kid. It used to sometimes be shown on weekends as part of a late night (not very scary) horror double-bill. I thought it was great. Lon Chaney Jr. was so sympathetic in the role.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The incantation the gypsy woman, Maleva, intones over Larry Talbot after his death is so poignant and beautiful. I am not familiar with that saying at all. Thank you for another great post, that has shown me and helped me to realize how very much horror movies, in many ways, have brought compassion and understanding to the word, “monster”. Wonderful. K D 🙂


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