MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE WOLF MAN (1941)
Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfs bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright
We’ve all heard this little ditty. It’s from THE WOLF MAN (1941) Universal’s classic werewolf movie starring Lon Chaney Jr. as everybody’s favorite werewolf, Larry Talbot. THE WOLF MAN also boasts a fantastic supporting cast, one of the best ever assembled for a Universal monster movie, led by Claude Rains as Larry’s father Sir John Talbot, and also featuring Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the Gypsy woman, and Ralph Bellamy, Evelyn Ankers, Patric Knowles, and Bela Lugosi.
Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at neat quotes from even neater movies. Today’s subject is THE WOLF MAN, one of my favorite Universal monster movies.
Now, unlike Bela Lugosi as Dracula, or even Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster, both of whom uttered now famous lines in their roles, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man is not really known for the classic lines he said, unless you include his incessant whining about wanting to die and being cursed eternally. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t memorable lines in THE WOLF MAN. There are. Plenty of them.
Let’s get started. Here’s a look at some memorable quotes from THE WOLF MAN, screenplay by Curt Siodmark.
We’ll start with the poem above, spoken several times during the movie. It’s one of the first times Larry hears about werewolves. He hears this poem, not once, but several times, and the legend of lycanthropy begins to creep into his being.
This ditty became so prevalent and accepted that it was actually credited later as being “an ancient gypsy rhyme” when in reality it was simply made up by screenwriter Curt Siodmark. Now, that’s good writing!
One of the most memorable characters in THE WOLF MAN is Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), the old gypsy woman whose son Bela (Bela Lugosi) is the werewolf who bites Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and turns him into a werewolf. Maleva becomes a central character in the story because she helps Larry deal with his new condition.
In a key scene, Larry watches from the shadows as Maleva speaks to her deceased son inside a crypt, who’s dead because Larry killed him, thinking he had killed a wolf. Larry listens from the shadows as Maleva delivers a final blessing to her dead son. Let’s listen:
MALEVA: 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, Bela my son. Now you will find peace.
Later, when Maleva and Larry Talbot first meet, she tries to warn him, telling him that he has been bitten by a werewolf, but Larry doesn’t want to believe it.
MALEVA: You killed the wolf.
LARRY TALBOT: Well, there’s no crime in that is there?
MALEVA: The wolf was Bela.
LARRY: You think I don’t know the difference between a wolf and a man?
MALEVA: Bela became a wolf and you killed him. A werewolf can only be killed by a silver bullet, or a silver knife or a stick with a silver handle.
LARRY TALBOT: You’re insane! I tell you, I killed a wolf! A plain, ordinary wolf!
MALEVA: Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives, becomes a werewolf himself.
When the police question Larry after Jenny Williams is killed by a wolf, and Bela the Gypsy is found dead next to her with his skull crushed by Larry Talbot’s cane, they want to know from Larry what happened. He tells them he killed a wolf, not a man, but as they insist the cane killed a man, not a wolf, Larry’s frustration grows, until the questioning is stopped by family friend and doctor, Doctor Lloyd, who is quite patronizing of Larry in this scene.
LARRY TALBOT: Don’t try to make me believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!
DOCTOR LLOYD: [patronizing Larry] Yes, yes. We’re all a bit confused.
And in keeping with the theme of the original shooting script called DESTINY, in which Larry Talbot would have transformed into a werewolf only in his mind, Doctor Lloyd answers Larry’s question about whether or not he believes in werewolves with this answer:
LARRY TALBOT: Do you believe in werewolves, doctor?
DOCTOR LLOYD: I believe a man lost in the mazes of his own mind may imagine that he’s anything.
Claude Rains has some great lines as Larry Talbot’s father, Sir John Talbot, like this classic one when he chastises Inspector Montford for being too impatient regarding his investigation of Bela the gypsy’s death:
SIR JOHN TALBOT: You policemen are always in such a hurry. As if dead men hadn’t all eternity.
And this line when he comments to Larry about his religious beliefs:
SIR JOHN TALBOT: All astronomers are amateurs. When it comes to the heavens, there’s only one professional.
Sir John is probably my favorite character in the movie, not because he’s likable, but because he’s the main reason why his son Larry Talbot is disturbed in the first place. It’s a great performance by Claude Rains, and other than his role as Captain Louis Renault in CASABLANCA (1942), it’s probably my favorite Claude Rains role.
Sir John isn’t intentionally mean to his son. He inflicts his damage inadvertently. Nearly everything he says somehow hurts Larry, even though he means well. Like this example towards the end of the movie when he berates his son for believing in werewolves:
SIR JOHN TALBOT: You can’t run away.
LARRY TALBOT: That’s it! That’s what she said.
SIR JOHN: Who?
LARRY: The gypsy woman.
SIR JOHN: Gypsy woman? Now we’re getting down to it. She’s been filling your mind with this gibberish. This talk of werewolves and pentagrams. You’re not a child Larry, you’re a grown man and you believe in the superstitions of a Gypsy woman!
And in of the movie’s best scenes, when Sir John decides to prove to Larry that he’s not a werewolf, he ties his son to a chair inside Talbot castle, and you can see Larry appreciating his father’s efforts, but then Sir John is called to leave his son and join the villagers in their hunt for the werewolf.
LARRY: But you’re going to stay with me, aren’t you?
SIR JOHN: Oh no, I’ve got to go, Larry. These people have a problem. You must make your own fight.
You can just see the light go out of Larry’s face. The fact is his father is just never there for him. There’s a lot going on in THE WOLF MAN, more than what you usually find in a horror movie. The story works on multiple levels. It’s a great movie.
I hope you enjoyed these quotes from THE WOLF MAN, and that you will join me again next time when I examine great quotes from another classic movie.
Thanks for reading!
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.