The Wolf Man (Waggner, 1941)

I was looking forward to The Wolf Man in the way you normally would look forward to a Universal monster movie from the ‘40s: hoping for some fun costuming, lavish sets, barrels of fog and a few slight chills up the spine. I got most of those things, sure. There’s no denying these films have a Gothic elegance to them that has aged well. What disappointed me about this one is all the heavy-handed psychologizing. Claude Rains essentially plays the guy who has to feed the audience alternative explanations to the supernatural elements. Maybe it’s schizophrenia or hypnosis or the suggestions of evil gypsies that’s driving his son mad! Maybe he just needs to lie down and take a sleeping draught and then he’ll be right as rain.

The only problem is: Larry Talbot does turn into a werewolf. All the superstitious flimflam is actually true. Maybe his father’s alternative explanations would be plausible if the film never showed Talbot as a hairy, growling monster, but it does. So what’s the point? Oh, I get it. It’s trying to be an allegory about, uh, seemingly good people committing monstrous deeds. Like, uh, the Nazis. That’s why, uh, the werewolf victimizes people only after seeing a pentagram on the palm of their hand.

Yeah, this script is way too clunky for me to appreciate. Not like the cheeky and subversive Bride of Frankenstein, which has aged amazingly well because the wink-wink, nudge-nudgery is so delightfully deft. It’s a pity this one isn’t as good, because the cast is strong and the art design a treat.