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The Wolf Man: Classic Monster Collection

Arriving in 1941, Universal's The Wolf Man completed their catalog of classic monsters, reaching the screen several years after Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy. However, the studio reached back into the earliest days of cinema horror for their leading man, as Lon Chaney Jr. was the son of the legendary Lon Chaney, who had built a mercurial silent-era career with such films as Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and numerous others. Chaney Jr. stars in The Wolf Man as Lawrence Talbot, a British expatriate who returns home from America after many years to be reunited with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). He immediately begins courting lovely villager Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), but on a fateful night in the countryside he is bitten by a wolf and begins to display symptoms of lycanthropy, the medical term for a psychosomatic or psychogenetic condition that causes its victims to take on rabid canine characteristics. If only it were that easy to explain, because Talbot is no subject for a medical examination — at least not when the moon grows full and he transforms into a hell-bent dog-man who roams the outdoors looking for a fleshy feast. The Wolf Man ranks among Universal's better horror features, cannily creating an unreal location for its equally unreal events (does the film take place in Britain or eastern Europe? Why all the American accents? Why do some people drive cars but most have horse-drawn carriages?). It is within this unusual milieu that the creepy story unfolds, and while it should be noted that Chaney never won any awards for his acting chops, Rains delivers his lines with such sublime economy that its no surprise he eventually built his reputation in far more substantial films (Casablanca, Notorious). For horror fans, a small supporting role by Bela Lugosi is a particular treat, and Maria Ouspenskaya, as a foreboding gypsy woman, was good enough to reprise the character in a number of sequels. The score by Charles Previn and Hans J. Salter, with its imposing three-note motif, is likely the best from Universal's classic horror period. Also starring Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, and Patric Knowles. Written by Curt Siodmak, directed by George Waggner. Makeup by Jack Pierce. Universal's DVD, part of their "Classic Monster Collection," features a good source print that suffers from some flecking but has very good low-contrast details, with clear audio in the original mono. Extra supplements include an amusing, rapid-fire commentary by film historian Tom Weaver; the 30-minute documentary "Monster by Moonlight: The Immortal Saga of the Wolf Man" narrated by John Landis; a still gallery with the original score; the original theatrical trailer; production notes; cast and crew bios and filmographies; and additional material as DVD-ROM content.

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