"Even a man who is pure at heart/And says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms/And the moon is full and bright." Upon first hearing these words, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) dismisses them as childish… More "Even a man who is pure at heart/And says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms/And the moon is full and bright." Upon first hearing these words, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) dismisses them as childish folderol. After all, this is the 20th Century; how can a human being turn into a werewolf? Talbot soon learns how when he attempts to rescue Jenny Williams (Fay Helm) from a nocturnal attack by a wolf. Collapsing, Talbot discovers upon reviving that Jenny is dead-and, lying by her side, is not the body of a beast, but of a gypsy named Bela (Bela Lugosi). The son of fortune teller Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), Bela was a lycanthrope, or "wolf man." And now that he has been bitten by Bela, Talbot is cursed to suffer the torments of the damned whenever the moon is full. Arguably the best of the "original" Universal horrors (original in the sense that it was not based on an existing literary property, a la Frankenstein, Dracula and The Invisible Man), The Wolf Man boasts one of the most stellar casts ever to grace a "B" picture: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya and Bela Lugosi. The man-to-wolf transformation sequences -- one of which took a full 24 hours to film -- are thoroughly convincing, thanks to the cosmetic genius of Jack P. Pierce (Chaney had wanted to emulate his father by developing his own werewolf makeup, but existing union rules would not permit this). Alas, after this powerhouse opening volley, the Wolf Man character was relegated to a series of cheap sequels, teaming him with other Universal shock stars: Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). The final ignominy was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1945), in which Lawrence Talbot (Chaney again), having been cured of lycanthropy in House of Dracula, reverts to his werewolf status -- and has to endure the one-liners of Lou Costello to boot! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Consensus: A handsomely told tale with an affecting performance from Lon Chaney, Jr., The Wolf Man remains one of the classics of the Universal horror stable.