|“||Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright.||„|
|― Sir John Talbot|
The Wolf Man is a 1941 film directed by George Waggner. It is one of the earliest produced Horror films, and considered to be a classic of cinema. It turned title star Lon Chaney, Jr. into a star and icon of the Horror genre. The film was re-made in 2010.
Having been living abroad for more than eighteen years, Larry Talbot returns home to Llanwelly Village after receiving word of his brother's unfortunate death during a hunting accident. At the expansive Talbot Castle, Larry reunites with his formerly estranged father, Sir John Talbot. The two lament the fact that a death in the family was required for the two men to make restitution with one another, and they both agree to shelve their former animosity. Sir John takes Larry into the attic of the house, which he has since converted into an observatory. Larry admires the giant telescope in the center of the room and begins making adjustments. Sir John leaves him to his work.
While looking through the telescope, Larry catches sight of a young, blonde-haired woman across the street. She is in her upstairs bedroom trying on a pair of earrings. Peering downward, Larry notes that the room is above Charles Conliffe's Antiques store.
Larry walks over to the store and introduces himself to the young woman, whom he learns is the proprietor's daughter, Gwen. Under the pretense of being a regular customer, Larry begins flirting with her. Gwen avoids his overzealous affections and convinces him to purchase a silver-tipped cane. The cane is unique in that the handle is in the shape of a wolf's head with the mark of the pentagram etched on the side. Gwen explains that the pentagram symbolizes the werewolf and then recites an old poem, "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright". She further informs him that a werewolf can see the sign of the pentagram in the palm of his next victim.
Caring little about occult folklore, Larry asks Gwen out on a date, but she politely turns him down. He refuses to take "no" for an answer though and warns Gwen that he will stop by the shop at 8:00 to pick her up. Gwen again tells him "no", but Larry playfully ignores her.
That evening, Larry arrives at the antiques shop as promised. He wants to take Gwen to the nearby gypsy camp to have her fortune told. Gwen agrees, but only if her friend Jenny Williams can come with them. Larry shifts about uncomfortably, but agrees.
When they arrive at the camp, Jenny is anxious to have her fortune told. Larry encourages her to go first, allowing him the opportunity to spend more time with Gwen. Gwen warns Larry that she is engaged to be married to a man named Frank Andrews.
While the two talk outside, Jenny goes into the tent of Bela the fortune teller. Bela prepares to read her future, but grows horror stricken when he sees the image of the pentagram in Jenny's palm. He tells her that she must go and then rushes out of the tent. Moments later, Larry and Gwen hear a scream of terror and Larry runs towards it to investigate. Through the foggy marsh, he sees a large wolf attacking Jenny Williams. He grapples with the animal and beats it repeatedly with his new cane. During the scuffle, the wolf bites Larry on the chest, but then falls over dead. Gwen and an old gypsy woman named Maleva bring Larry back to Talbot Castle.
Immediately, villagers begin mounting a private investigation. Colonel Montford examines the scene and finds the body of Bela the gypsy as well as Larry's silver-tipped cane.
The following morning, Sir John summons Doctor Lloyd who examines Larry. When Larry is feeling a bit better rested, he sits up and tries to explain what happened. Sir John's friend Colonel Paul Montford is present and is also curious about what took place at the gypsy camp. Larry explains that he killed the wolf that had been attacking Jenny Williams. Colonel Montford tells him that they found no evidence of a wolf, but instead, the body of Bela the gypsy lying next to Larry's cane. Larry is scared, but insists that it was a wolf he had killed and not Bela. John Talbot deflects Montford's extensive probing and even Doctor Lloyd reminds them that Larry needs some rest.
That day, Larry goes to the churchyard where he finds a minister preparing a casket for Bela. He overhears the minister arguing with Bela's mother, Maleva, over the gypsies' pagan funerary rites.
Later, three women angrily barge into Conliffe's Antiques looking for Gwen. One of them is Jenny Williams' mother who openly blames Gwen for her daughter's death. While Gwen hides in another room, he father tries to calm the old women down. Larry walks into the shop and angrily snarls at the three women. Flustered, they soon take their leave. Larry calls upon Gwen and apologizes to her for everything that happened on the evening prior. At this time, Larry also meets Gwen's fiancé, Frank Andrews.
That evening, Larry meets Gwen and Frank at a local fair. Frank tries to be nice to Talbot even though there is something about the man that disturbs him. Larry tries his hand at a shooting gallery game, but when one of the targets displays an image of a wolf, Larry grows nervous. Afterward, he encounters Maleva the gypsy. He remembers seeing her at Bela's coffin. Maleva tells him that the wolf he had killed was actually her son who was a werewolf, and now Larry bears the mark of the werewolf as well. Larry doesn't believe her, but Maleva hands him a charm which she asserts will protect him from the curse. Larry begins to panic and leaves.
He runs into Gwen and gives her the charm then returns home. That night, Larry transforms into a Wolf Man for the very first time. He creeps out the window of the Talbot estate and stalks off into the night. Lurking through the marshes, he comes to a churchyard where he attacks and kills a grave digger named Richardson.The following morning, Larry awakens in his bedroom. The window is open and there are muddy tracks across his room. He goes downstairs and sees his father and Colonel Montford. John tells him that Richardson the grave digger was killed the previous evening and the police found animal tracks leading back to the house. After Montford leaves, Larry asks his father if he believes in werewolves. John tells him that a man consumed by mania may be capable of just about anything, but he doesn't believe that a man can physically shape-shift into a wolf.
Meanwhile, the townspeople begin mounting a search for the animal that killed Richardson and Jenny Williams. Rumors of a werewolf sighting begins circulating throughout the gypsy camp. The hunters begin planting bear traps throughout the moors.
That evening, Talbot transforms into the Wolf Man for the second time. He goes out into the marshes and steps into a bear trap, causing himself great pain. Maleva the gypsy arrives and offers forth the same prayer that she spoke over the body of her son. The Wolf Man turns back into Larry Talbot. Maleva urges him to leave before the hunters can find him. Larry limps away and has a brief encounter with some of the villagers. None of them seem to notice that Larry is walking barefoot and with a limp.
Larry now knows that he truly is a werewolf and he goes to see Gwen. As they talk, he notices the sign of the pentagram appearing in her hand. He warns her against ever seeing him again and tells her that he may end up causing her harm, or worse. Gwen doesn't understand and only wants to help Larry. He tells her that he is responsible for killing Bela and Richardson and that he must leave the village.
Larry returns home where he finds Sir John preparing to join the rest of the search party. He pleads with his father to secure him in his room. John humors his son and ties him to a chair in his bedroom. Larry asks his father to take his silver-tipped cane with him for protection. John doesn't really understand the request, but complies nonetheless. He locks the door behind him as he goes out on the hunt.
Later, Larry transforms into the Wolf Man and escapes from his room. He stalks back out into the moors looking for fresh victims. The dark forests are filled with hunters who have gathered together at a tree stand, scanning the area for any sign of the werewolf. John Talbot comes upon Maleva's caravan. Angrily, he accuses her of filling his son’s head with "witches tales". Maleva however, believes that John is beginning to learn the truth. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and John instinctively thinks that his son might be in danger. As he runs off, Maleva hauntingly warns him, "Hurry, Sir John. Hurry."
Meanwhile, the Wolf Man finds Gwen Conliffe wandering through the woods. He leaps upon her and prepares to claw out her throat, but he is distracted when he notices John Talbot coming up behind him. The Wolf Man drops Gwen and attacks Sir John. The two begin fighting, but John is armed with Larry's silver-tipped cane and he begins repeatedly beating him with it. Eventually, the constant blows take their toll and the Wolf Man collapses to the ground, dead.
Maleva arrives and crouches down next to the Wolf Man's body. Once again she speaks the cryptic words, "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. Your suffering is over, my son." The Wolf Man transforms back into the form of Larry Talbot.
- Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot
- Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot
- Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe
- Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva
- Bela Lugosi as Bela
- Patric Knowles as Frank Andrews
- Warren William as Doctor Lloyd
- Ralph Bellamy as Paul Montford
- J.M. Kerrigan as Charles Conliffe
- Fay Helm as Jenny Williams
- Forrester Harvey as Twiddle
- Larry Talbot and Maleva both appear next in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. That film also indicates that Sir John Talbot dies shortly after the events from this film.
- Horror film director Joe Dante paid homage to The Wolf Man in his 1981 horror film, The Howling. Dante's film featured several clips taken from The Wolf Man and also included a character who was named after director/producer George Waggner.
- The location of Llanwelly village is never fully disclosed, though it is clear that it is located somewhere in Eastern Europe. The audio commentary on the Wolf Man Legacy Collection (as well as other sources) indicate that Llanwelly is located in Wales, though this is never supported by the film. The quasi-sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, suggests that Llanwelly is not far from Cardiff, Wales.
- In a bit of casting irony, Tom Stevenson, who plays the grave digger in this film comes back to play a grave robber in the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.