“Sister moon will be my guide…”
Hello again friends and neighbors! Big Ruta is back and ready to lay some Halloween movie lovin on ya! Oh baby! Ya might notice that my blog has moved. Blogger was just giving me too much trouble. Each post was getting more and more frustrating and so at the suggestion of h&m, I have moved over here to wordpress. I like it so far. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
I love werewolves. Of all the frightful critters to come crawling out of our collective folkloric subconscious, “the wolf that walks as a man” is perhaps my personal fave. Ya got all the classic themes: transformation, corruption, savagery, lust, blood, guts, guilt, redemption, love, hate, death, disease, magik all wrapped up in a wonderfully tragic package. What’s not to love?
There have been plenty of werewolf flicks, but most just don’t do the subject justice.
This Halloween, I’m going to share a few that I like with y’all.
1941, Universal, 70 minutes, NR
actors: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Evelyn Ankers
writer: Curt Siodmak
director, producer: George Waggner
Taxonomy: Horror; werewolf flick; dog lovers
Plot: Good hearted lug Larry Talbot gets bitten by love – and something else.
Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) returns to his family estate in rural England after the tragic death of his elder brother in a hunting accident. He is soon helping his father, Sir John Talbot (Rains) fix the telescope in their castle-top observatory. He then uses the scope to spy on a cute blond while she is dressing! Yep! Larry is just a big old lovable lug – and perv. He visits the antique shop where the blond works and buys a walking stick. The walking stick has a silver handle in the shape of a wolf’s head with a pentagram etching. Let the exposition begin! Gwen Conliffe (Ankers), Larry’s voyeuristic target, explains that the pentagram is the symbol of the werewolf and that a werewolf can see a pentagram in the palm of his next victim’s hand. Gwen is the first of several characters in the flick to recite the classic doublet,
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright.”
Notice it does not specify a full moon. Anyway, Larry pesters Gwen into going out with him that night.
After a chat with Sir John – and a repetition of the poem – Larry shows up at the antique shop happy to see that Gwen is waiting for him. But Gwen has a surprise in store Larry; she has invited her friend Jenny to come along! Take that Slick! The three walk out into the misty moors and pick some wolfsbane. Which gives Jenny the opportunity to recite the poem. We have now heard it three times within 10 minutes. Subtlety be damned! We need to keep reminding the audience that this here is a werewolf flick! Our happy threesome end up in a gypsy camp where they meet an Maleva (Ouspenskaya) and her son Bela (Lugosi). Yes that’s right, Bela Lugosi plays a guy named Bela. Easy to remember, I guess. Larry and the ladies ask if they can have their fortunes read. Jenny goes first and Larry and Gwen slip off into the moor to flirt in a goofy 40s kind of way.
It seems Bela does not like wolfsbane, hmmm… Then we see a star on his forehead – not a pentagram, mind you, a star. He tells Jenny, “Your left hand shows your past, your right hand shows your future.” Then he sees a pentagram in her right palm! He tells her to go – quickly and she runs away. Gwen and Larry hear Jenny scream, Larry goes to investigate and sees a large dog (yeah, it’s supposed to be a wolf, but it is a dog) chewing on her. This shot is well done, very fast, but it gets the point across. Larry beats the dog – er – wolf to death with his walking stick, but not before being bitten! Gwen and Maleva take Larry home. Then Bela is found dead on the moors near Jenny with Larry’s walking stick next to his body!
Colonel Montford (Bellamy) starts to investigate and it seems more and more likely that Larry killed Bela. Larry swears he killed a wolf, and overhears Maleva tell Bela that his suffering is over. There is some discussion of the psychology of lycanthropy, but no one takes it seriously – except Larry.
The gypsies hold a celebration in honor of Bela. Many of the townsfolk go out to the gypsy camp for the festivities. We see a young gypsy woman hike up her skirt to show her legs while dancing – shocking! Larry finds a bit of time to flirt a bit more with Gwen – when she is not with her fiancee! Eventually Maleva tells Larry flat out that Bela was a werewolf and that Larry having been bitten, but not killed buy Bela is now a werewolf himself. She gives Larry a charm with a pentagram on it, she says it may protect him. She also mentions that only silver can kill a werewolf. Maleva then tells the other gypsies that there is a werewolf in camp and they pack up and leave right quick!
Larry goes home and starts to feel itchy. He pulls up his pant legs and takes off his shoes and socks and we get the transformation scene! We see Larry’s legs and feet slowly transform into those of a wolfman via fades. Yep, just his legs and feet. I remember having seen scenes of Lon Chaney Jr’s face transforming, but those must have been from one of the sequels because we never see that in this flick. To give the make-up folks some credit, they show his feet transform so that he walks on his toes – just like a wolf.
Well the wolfman is out now! Larry prowls the moors looking for prey – his clothes still fit quite well, no tears even with his shirt buttoned all the way up to the neck! The wolfman seems to be more fit than Larry! He comes across a gravedigger. Not sure who he is burying or why he is doing so way out in the moors, but he just stands there and screams when he sees the wolfman and gets chomped. Colonel Montford notes large wolf tracks that lead right up to the Talbot estate. Larry finds the same tracks on his bedroom floor and a star on his chest. Hmmm… Could it be true!?
Montford rounds up some men and they wait at a shooting platform after setting out leg-hold traps. Sure enough, the wolfman steps right in one – ouchies! He pulls it open, limps away and passes out. Maleva shows up and says a little charm and the wolfman changes back into Larry. Well, if she could do that, then… oh nevermind!
Larry tells Gwen he has to go away but when he gets home Sir John straps him into a chair! Larry begs Sir John to take his walking stick. Well, Larry changes and escapes – gee didn’t see that coming! – gets shot, but hey it was just a regular old lead bullet, so no biggie! He attacks Gwen, who went out on the moors looking for him – jeez! The funny thing is, Gwen holds the wolfman off pretty well! Sir John kills the “wolf” with the silver-headed walking stick – and we see the wolfman change back into Larry. Everybody cries. The End.
Babeage:Evelyn Ankers is an attractive damsel in distress, but not what I would call babe material – at least not in this flick.
Sleazeploitation: Well, Larry is a peeper…
Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes:The wolfman (duh!) and Bela.
Violence:A couple of gun shots, leg in trap and two walking stick bludgeonings.
Gore & FX:No gore. The make-up effects are good but the transformation scene is a let down – unless you’re a foot fetishist. Perhaps the worst effect in the flick is the werewolf sound effects. Howling sure, but other than that the wolfman sounds like a tired old hound.
Hey, that’s what’s his name!: Claude Rains was in a ton of movies. He had his own Universal series of flicks as The Invisible Man(1933). He was Captain Renault, better known as “Frenchy,” in Casablanca (1942). As for Ralph Bellamy, well check out his IMDB page.
When Larry shows up for his date with Gwen he says, “And you see, I wore my cane too!”
Larry: “Wolf! Gypsy woman? Murder!? What is this?” It’s the plot Lon, try to pay attention.
Dr. Lloyd says of Jenny, “Her jugular was severed with the bite of powerful teeth.” Wow! That werewolf must be damn strong! If his teeth alone can sever someone’s jugular, just imagine how powerful his jaws must be!
Sir John, “You policemen are always in such a hurry! As if dead men don’t have all eternity!” So jus chill out wit a cool beverage, mon!
Two men ask Larry what he is doing out on the moors. He tells them, “Why, the same thing that you are of course – hunting.”
When he sees Larry’s star shaped scar, Sir John says, “That scar could be made by most any animal.” Yeah, any animal that got “A”s in geometry!
Moral: Keep your pets on a leash.
The Wolfmanis the standard from which all werewolf flicks derive. It lays all the gothic groundrules: mark of the beast, lycanthropy as an occult disease, moonlight good, silver bad, wolfsbane, werewolf cursed to attack those he loves. It also runs into the classic logical flaw of having the cursed character change into a werewolf several times over a few consecutive nights – lunar calendar be damned. Of course, as I pointed out above, the full moon is never specifically mentioned, just the bright Autumn moon. So lycanthropy only happens in the Fall? Just like football! Hmmm…
This is me at age nine baby!:Yeah, yeah, yeah – enough with the sappy romance! Wait! Dracula is a gypsy now? Runnin and howlin through the moors at midnight! Woohoo! The guy just stood there and let himself be killed! Oh man! His dad killed him!
Universal Monster Movie Checklist:
names you know
love interest – even if it disrupts the flow
big old castle
fog – lots of fog
goofy comic relief – with an accent
cobwebs – lots of cobwebs
where’s the blood?
One to Ponder:Did the wolfman always take his shoes off before he transformed?
Okay, well there ya go! My first Halloween movie review of 2007. Hope ya liked it.
What? Halloween was yesterday?
Remember: comments, suggestions, requests and contributions always welcome!