THE HORROR JAR: LON CHANEY JR. WOLF MAN Movies

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

THE HORROR JAR:  Lon Chaney Jr. WOLF MAN Movies

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, the column that lists odds and ends about horror movies.  Up today a look at the movies in which Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot, aka the Wolf Man.

Lon Chaney Jr. played the Wolf Man in a total of five movies, all of them for Universal, starting with arguably the best werewolf movie ever made, the classic THE WOLF MAN (1941).  He also made two other screen appearances as a werewolf that wasn’t Larry Talbot.

But it all started with THE WOLF MAN, a film that has aged well over the years, cementing its standing as perhaps the best werewolf movie ever made.

After working several years in bit parts using his real name, Creighton Chaney changed it to Lon Chaney Jr. upon the insistence of a producer, in order to take advantage of his deceased father’s name, Lon Chaney, one of the biggest silent film stars in movie history.  It was a decision that Chaney never liked, yet his career took off shortly thereafter.

His first big break came in 1939, when he played the role of Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN (1939) to great critical acclaim.  Two years later he took on the role which would make him famous, Larry Talbot, aka the Wolf Man, in THE WOLF MAN.

THE WOLF MAN is a remarkable film.  It boasts a fantastic cast that includes both Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi in addition to Chaney.  It’s one of Rains’ best roles, as he plays Sir John Talbot, Larry’s father, a strict moralistic man who means well but seems to hurt Larry with nearly every word he says.

Chaney is sensational as Larry Talbot, a tortured young man who wants no part of being a werewolf but becomes engulfed in the lycanthropic madness which surrounds him.  The original title of the movie was DESTINY, and it was to have featured Larry only becoming a werewolf in his own mind.   This idea was eventually scrapped, but you can still find traces and hints of this original concept in the final version.

Here they are now, the movies in which Lon Chaney Jr. played the Wolf Man:

THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Directed by George Waggner

Screenplay by Curt Siodmak

Music by Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, and Frank Skinner

Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Sir John Talbot:  Claude Rains

Maleva:  Maria Ouspenskaya

Gwen Conliffe:  Evelyn Ankers

Colonel Paul Montford:  Ralph Bellamy

Frank Andrews:  Patric Knowles

Bela:  Bela Lugosi

Running Time:  70 minutes

The cast alone makes this one a classic, but THE WOLF MAN is so much more.  It’s Lon Chaney Jr.’s first appearance as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, the role with which he would be forever identified.  This one has fine acting, an excellent script by Curt Siodmak, iconic Wolf Man makeup by Jack Pierce, and enough creepy atmosphere to make your skin crawl.  It also features an exciting conclusion, where young Gwen, Sir John Talbot, and the Wolf Man all cross paths in the fog-shrouded forest for the film’s heartbreaking finale.  Considered by many—myself included— to be the finest werewolf movie ever made.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

Directed by Roy William Neill

Screenplay by Curt Siodmak

Music by Hans J. Salter

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

The Monster:  Bela Lugosi

Baroness Elsa Frankenstein:  Ilona Massey

Maleva:  Maria Ouspenskaya

Dr. Mannering:  Patric Knowles

Mayor:  Lionel Atwill

Rudi:  Dwight Frye

Running Time:  74 minutes

Universal decided one monster in a movie was no longer enough, which is too bad because had this been a straight Wolf Man sequel, Universal might have had another classic on its hands.  As it stands, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN isn’t a bad film at all— it’s actually very good, and the novelty of two monsters appearing in one movie has held up over the decades, keeping this one a crowd-pleaser even today, but the first half of the movie, the part that is a direct sequel to THE WOLF MAN and resurrects Larry Talbot from the grave, is by far the best part of the movie.  Once Talbot discovers the Frankenstein Monster frozen in ice, and thaws him out, the film becomes less compelling and much more contrived.  Still, it’s a helluva show, and the film’s climactic battle between the two titled monsters although brief is still well worth the wait.

This one just might feature the best makeup job by Jack Pierce on the Wolf Man.  Chaney’s Larry Talbot is the most interesting character in the movie, and the Wolf Man even gets to be heroic as he saves the Baroness Frankenstein from the clutches of the Frankenstein Monster in the film’s conclusion.

 

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton

Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr.

Music by Hans J. Salter

Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Doctor Niemann:  Boris Karloff

The Monster:  Glenn Strange

Dracula:  John Carradine

Daniel:  J. Carrol Naish

Ilonka:  Elena Verdugo

Inspector Arnz:  Lionel Atwill

Rita Hussman:  Anne Gwynne

Professor Bruno Lampini:  George Zucco

Running Time:  71 minutes

After the success of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, Universal decided that even two monsters in one movie weren’t enough, and so they invited Dracula to the party.  While not as good as its predecessor, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is still a pretty good movie, and had it been twenty minutes longer and added some depth to its story, it might have been hailed as another Universal classic.  As it stands, things move incredibly quickly, and all the action is jam-packed in the film’s brief 71 minutes.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is probably most notable for the return of Boris Karloff to the Frankenstein series, after he missed the previous two films.  Karloff returned not as the monster but as the evil Doctor Niemann, a nice precursor to Peter Cushing’s dark interpretation of Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer movies a decade and a half later.

Lon Chaney Jr. fares rather well here in his very brief screen time as Larry Talbot, as his scenes as the Wolf Man are quick and fleeting.  Still, he gets involved in one of the movie’s better subplots, a love story with the young gypsy girl Ilonka.  In fact, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN contains one of the more dramatic sequences involving the Wolf Man in the entire series, as Ilonka decides to take it upon herself to “save” her lover, taking on the Wolf Man with a silver bullet.  This emotional little sequence really packs a wallop.

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton

Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr

Music by William Lava

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Dracula:  John Carradine

The Monster:  Glenn Strange

Doctor Edelmann:  Onslow Stevens

Police Inspector Holtz:  Lionel Atwill

Nina:  Jane Adams

Running Time:  67 minutes

Follow-up to HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN isn’t as good, but it’s still not a bad little movie.  This one is notable because Doctor Edelmann who treats all the monsters in this film, actually cures Larry Talbot!  So, at the end of the film, Larry Talbot, no longer suffering the effects of being the Wolf Man, actually gets to play the hero and save the heroine from the Frankenstein Monster.

Jane Adams, who played the hunchback nurse Nina, just recently passed away, on May 21, 2014 at the age of 95.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

Directed by Charles Barton

Screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, and John Grant

Music by Frank Skinner

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Dracula:  Bela Lugosi

The Monster:  Glenn Strange

Chick:  Bud Abbott

Wilbur:  Lou Costello

Running Time:  83 minutes

Originally proposed as HOUSE OF THE WOLF MAN, this serious idea was scrapped in favor of a comedy.

Strangely, it took the comedic presence of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to return the Universal monsters to their glory days.   Chaney was disappointed that Universal decided to put their monsters in an Abbott and Costello comedy, but the truth is the monsters fare better in this movie than the previous two.  They enjoy more screen time and have more dialogue than ever before.  Heck, even Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster says a few lines!  Plus, Bela Lugosi returned as Dracula, the first time he played the role since the 1931 original.  This one works because the monsters play it straight and keep their dignity, and of course it doesn’t hurt that Abbott and Costello are downright hilarious in this movie.

Chaney delivers another excellent performance as Larry Talbot, this time focused on stopping Dracula from spreading his evil on the world.  Lots of Wolf Man scenes in this one.

And now for Chaney’s two non-Larry Talbot appearances as a werewolf:

ROUTE 66

Season 3 Episode 6 “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” (October 26, 1962)

Directed by Robert Gist

Teleplay by Stirling Silliphant

Lon Chaney Jr. dons werewolf makeup in this playful episode of the popular 1960s TV show.  Chaney, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre all play themselves, as they are planning their horror movie comeback.  Karloff dresses as the Frankenstein Monster and Chaney dresses as the Wolf Man to see if they can still scare people.

FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964)

Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares, Rafael Portillo, and Jerry Warren

Screenplay by Juan Garcia, Gilberto Martinez Solares, Alfredo Salazar, Jerry Warren, and Fernando de Fuentes

Music by Luis Hernandez Breton

The Mummified Werewolf:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Running Time:  60 minutes

An aging Lon Chaney Jr. plays a werewolf for the last time in this little seen Grade Z horror movie from Mexico.  The most notable thing about this one is that it took five writers to write it!

And that wraps things up for today.  I hope you enjoyed this look at Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man movies, and I’ll see you again next time on the next HORROR JAR.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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