The Wolf Man is a 1941 monster horror film written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood’s depictions of the legend of the werewolf. The film is the second Universal Pictures werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful Werewolf of London.
- Larry Talbot’s brother’s name was John.
- In the first version of the script, Larry was not the prodigal son of Sir John Talbot, nor related to him in any way. He was an American engineer who comes to fix Sir John’s telescope, and ends up getting trapped in the werewolf curse.
- Lon Chaney Jr.’s make-up took six hours to apply, and three hours to get off.
- Larry had been away 18 years working on Mt. Wilson Observatory in California.
- The first transformation takes place with Talbot in an undershirt (although he is fully dressed in a dark shirt
once on the prowl). Only the feet transform on screen in six lapse dissolves. In the second transformation there are eleven shots – again of feet only. The third transformation features 17 face shots in a continuous dissolve.
- The Wolfman battled a bear in one scene but unfortunately the bear ran away during filming. What few scenes were filmed were put into the theatrical trailer.
- “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.” This quote has been listed in some sources as an authentic Gypsy or Eastern European folk saying. Writer Curt Siodmak admits that he simply made it up. Nonetheless, the rhyme would be recited in every future Universal film appearance of the Wolf Man, and would also be quoted in Van Helsing (2004). (Albeit, slightly modified, “The moon is shining bright.” rather than “The autumn moon is bright.”)
- Larry’s silver wolf-headed cane, the only known surviving prop from the movie, currently resides in the personal collection of genre film archivist Bob Burns. Burns, who was a schoolboy at the time, was given the cane head by the man who made it for the film, prop-maker Ellis Burman.
- Maria Ouspenskaya, who played the old Gypsy woman, was only six years older than Bela Lugosi, who played her son.
- According to the documentary on the Recent Wolf Man DVD collection, the script for The Wolf Man was influenced by writer Curt Siodmak’s experiences in Nazi Germany. Siodmak had been living a normal life in Germany only to have it thrown into chaos and himself on the run when the Nazis took control, just as Larry Talbot finds his normal life thrown into chaos and himself on the run once he is turned into a werewolf. Also, the wolfman himself can be seen as a metaphor for the Nazis: an otherwise good man who is transformed into a vicious killing animal who knows who his next victim will be when he sees the symbol of a pentagram (i.e., a star) on them.
- Curt Siodmak’s first draft lacked all werewolf scenes and the hallucinatory sequence.
- Dick Foran was originally cast in the role of Larry Talbot. He was replaced just one week before filming began.
- It was originally given the working title, “Destiny,” which had been the preliminary title of a number of Universal films that decade (including Son of Dracula (1943)).
- Universal, lacking a theater chain, had planned to market the film as part of a double bill (with The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)) but feared that the public would avoid an all-horror bill after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Evelyn Ankers had a rough time on the set. Lon Chaney Jr. delighted in sneaking up on her in full makeup and scaring her senseless. In other deleted scene, a bear was to wrestle with the werewolf but broke loose, chasing the actress up into the soundstage’s rafters.
- Despite Universal’s apprehensions over the public’s appetite for horror movies following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film became one of the studio’s top grossers in 1942.
- The silver top of Larry’s wolf-head cane was made of vulcanized rubber so none of the actors or stunt doubles would get injured if they were accidentally hit by it.
- Universal had another unproduced werewolf script originally planned as a vehicle for Boris Karloff on file but writer Curt Siodmak did not utilize any of it for his script.
- Silent film actor Gibson Gowland appears in this film as a villager present at the death of Larry Talbot. He also had been present during the Phantom’s death scene in the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), becoming the only actor to appear in death scenes performed by both Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr.
- In this movie, we’re told that a werewolf is “a human being who becomes a wolf at certain times of the year … ‘when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,’” and the moon is never depicted in the film. This is the only one of the Universal series of Wolf Man films in which the full moon is never shown. In the sequel, the folklore is changed to “when the moon is full and bright.”
- Larry Talbot and his father Sir John attend church on Sunday in the village, but the doorway and steps of the village church looks more like that of a cathedral. In fact, it was a cathedral – part of the original set built for the legendary silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923/I), which had starred Lon Chaney Jr.’s famous father, Lon Chaney and which stood on the Universal back lot for over 20 years.
- The “wolf” that Larry Talbot fights with was Lon Chaney Jr.’s own German Shepherd.
- The first Universal picture since The Black Cat (1934) to introduce the major characters during the opening credits – and the actors playing them – with brief clips from the movie.