Wolf Man, The (1941) (Blu-ray)

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Released 17-May-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Featurette-Monster By Moonlight (32:37)
Featurette-The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (10:02)
Featurette-Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr (36:53)
Featurette-He Who Made Monsters: The Life & Art of Jack Pierce (24:56)
Gallery-The Wolf Man Archives (6:46)
Trailer-Trailer Gallery (6:29) - 6 Wolf Man films
Featurette-100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9:25)
Audio Commentary-Film historian Tom Weaver
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1941
Running Time 69:56
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By George Waggner
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Lon Chaney Jr.
Claude Rains
Evelyn Ankers
Bela Lugosi
Ralph Bellamy
Maria Ouspenskaya
Warren William
Case ?
RPI ? Music Charles Previn
Frank Skinner
Hans Salter


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Italian dts 2.0
French dts 2.0
German dts 2.0
Spanish dts 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
German
Spanish
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright"

     In the 1930s Universal hit the jackpot with their monster / horror pictures starting with Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931). These were not the first horror films of course; there was a silent Frankenstein as early as 1910, the Dracula story had been filmed as Nosferatu in 1922 and Universal themselves had produced The Werewolf in 1913. However it was Universal in the 1930s that put monsters into the mainstream. After the success of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933), and their sequels, the next original monster created by Universal was The Wolf Man.

     After the death of his elder brother Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) returns to the home of his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), in England after 18 years away in America. There he is reacquainted with his childhood friend Paul Montford (Ralph Bellamy), who is now Chief Constable, and hears the local superstition about a werewolf, a human who can become a wolf. Larry dismisses the superstition; instead his mind is on local beauty, Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), the daughter of the antiques shop owner in the village. Shortly after Larry’s return gypsies come to the village and Larry, Gwen and her friend Jenny go to have their fortunes told by Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) and her son Bela (Bela Lugosi). Afterwards, returning home in the dark Jenny is attacked and has her throat ripped by a wolf; Larry runs to her aid and is bitten before he manages to kills the creature with his silver tipped cane. Bloodied, he is helped home by Gwen and Maleva, but in the morning he has no scars or blood on his body while in the woods are discovered the bodies of Jenny, with her throat ripped, and Bela, his head battered and Larry’s silver cane nearby.

     To his horror Larry realises that he has been infected and at night is turning into a werewolf, hunting and killing its prey. In desperation he tries to turn to his father and the doctor (Warren Williams) to find a cure before he inadvertently kills the woman he has fallen in love with.

     The Wolf Man is an atmospheric psychological horror film rather than an exercise in terror. For the first 40 minutes there is some doubt about whether Larry’s fears are real or in his imagination and there is discussion about mental illness, including schizophrenia, and even after the truth is revealed and Larry turns into a werewolf he is not an uncaring monster but is experiencing, as his father comments, the conflict between good and evil in each person’s soul. The Wolf Man is directed by the experienced George Waggner who later in his career directed numerous popular TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Cheyenne, Hawaiian Eye and Batman. The film looks stunning; much of the action takes place at night, in a graveyard or a forest of trees shrouded by mist, and is beautifully noir lit with light and shadows by cinematographer Joseph Valentine, who received five Oscar nominations in his career, winning for Joan of Arc (1948).

     Lon Chaney Jr emerged from out of his famous silent screen star father’s shadow, becoming a star in his own right with this performance in The Wolf Man. Thereafter he became Universal’s go-to monster actor of the 1940s, appearing as The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula as well as five films as the Wolf Man. He is a big man with a big presence, but he brings to his role in The Wolf Man a sadness and vulnerability that is touching and elicits our sympathy; although we know he is a monster, it is not of his doing. As the frequently quoted poem goes; “Even a man who is pure in heart . . . may become a wolf when the autumn moon is bright". At the time of The Wolf Man Chaney was relatively unknown and did not receive top billing for the film; that went to Claude Rains, who come to prominence in Universal’s The Invisible Man (1933), but is perhaps best remembered for his fabulous performance in Casablanca (1942), for which he received one of his four best supporting actor Oscar nominations. He was only 17 years older than Chaney, but looks young and dapper and nothing like the hulking Chaney so I did find it hard to imagine him as Chaney’s father. Also in the cast is Universal icon Bela Lugosi in a small part while Russian born Maria Ouspenskaya, apparently a very difficult person to handle on set, is impressive as the gypsy fortune teller.

     The Wolf Man made a star of Lon Chaney Jr and left a lasting legacy, establishing a number of the myths and attributes of werewolves and how they could be killed, thanks to screenwriter Curt Siodmak. One thing to note, however, is that the full moon, so important an element in werewolf lore, is nowhere shown in The Wolf Man, although it is in future instalments of the series. The Wolf Man is a psychological horror film, contrasting good and evil, science and superstition; it is slow moving and atmospheric, with the reveal of the Wolf Man not until 40 minutes into the film. But you can forgo a need for fast paced thrills the film is still very much worth seeing, featuring as it does the make-up effects of the maestro Jack Pierce and the performance of Lon Chaney Jr.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Wolf Man is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     I doubt the film has ever looked better! This is a very clean restored print without obvious marks or artefacts. Many scenes take place at night, in a forest with trees and mists, where blacks, greyscale and shadow detail are excellent. The sequence with the coffin in the crypt includes a beautiful array of noir lighting, with light diagonally across the screen and Chaney in shadow. There is nice grain, kept under control.

     Large white English subtitles for the hearing impaired follow the dialogue closely in the section I sampled. Also available are English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles for both the film and the audio commentary.

Video Ratings Summary
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Audio

     Audio choices are English DTS-HD MA 2.0 (mono), Italian, French, German and Spanish dubs in DTS 2.0, plus English audio commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0).

     Dialogue was always easy to understand. There was little by way of other effects except werewolf howls in the distance which were loud and suitably frightening. Obviously there is no surround or subwoofer use. There is no credit for the score but it was provided by Frank Skinner, Hans Salter and Charles Previn; it is melodic and strident, as was common for the time.

     Hiss and crackle were not present.

     Lip synchronisation was fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
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Extras

100 Years of Universal (2:28)

     This promotion for Universal Pictures plays on start-up.

Monster By Moonlight (32:37)

     Made in 1999, hosted by writer / director John Landis and sub-headed “The Immortal Saga of The Wolf Man” this is a good featurette. Using stills and film footage, plus comments by make-up artist Rick Baker, Universal archivist Jan-Christopher Horak, film music historian John Morgan and conductor William T. Stromberg, the featurette looks at the history of shapeshifting, the 1935 werewolf film Werewolf of London, the establishing of werewolf mythology by screenwriter Curt Siodmak (who also appears in this extra), the creation of the Wolf Man make-up by Jack Pierce, the music and the subsequent Wolf Man films.

The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (10:02)

     Made in 2009, a range of people including authors Kim Newman, Stephen Jones, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns and Jonathan Rigby, make-up artist Rick Baker and directors Joe Dante, Mick Garris and John Landis talk about the werewolf myths and legends created for this film and their impact.

Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr (36:53)

     Authors Gregory William Mank, Kim Newman, Stephen Jones, Steve Haberman, Kerry Gammill and Jonathan Rigby, make-up artist Rick Baker, directors Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Jack Hill and John Landis, actors Janet Ann Gallow and Sid Haig and friend A.C. Lyles talk about Chaney’s relationship with his famous father, his career before he became a star, the Universal horror pictures, in which Chaney played all the Universal monsters, his subsequent career in film and television and Chaney’s personality. This is featurette really about Chaney’s film career; it is interesting as it includes scenes from a number of his films but, other than mentioning his drinking problem, there is little personal and nothing, for example, about his family or second wife (of over 35 years).

He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (24:56)

     Made in 2008 this fascinating featurette (which was also on Universal’s The Mummy (1932) release) uses still photographs, film footage and interviews, with lots of stories and anecdotes, to chart the work and legacy of make-up artist Jack Pierce, the man who created the iconic make-up effects for the Universal monsters including Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolfman. Interviewees include current make-up effect artists Rick Baker, Nick Dudman, Bill Corso, Kevin Haney, Michelle Burke, authors Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Stephen Jones, Christopher Frayling, Kim Newman and film historian Bob Burns. For a pioneer of special make-up effects with such a legacy it is sad to learn that Pierce died in 1968, alone and almost destitute.

The Wolf Man Archives (6:46)

     Colour film posters and advertising plus black and white film stills which advance automatically with music.

Trailer Gallery (6:29)

     Trailers for six of the Universal films involving the Wolf Man. All are unrestored but the one for The Wolf Man is by far the worst, showing what the film might have looked like if it had not been restored. There is a play all option:

100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9:25)

     A look at the Universal back lot where sets for films such as Psycho and Spartacus still stand as well as the sound stages and some of the films that were made there. Additional comments from some of the people who have filmed there including directors Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Peter Berg, John Landis, Ron Howard and John Carpenter and actors including Dan Aykroyd and Meryl Streep.

Feature Audio Commentary

     Film historian Tom Weaver provides a non-stop, entertaining, humorous and well researched commentary. He talks about the biographies of the stars of the film plus a number of the supporting players, the director and cinematographer, different drafts of the script, and points out reused shots, continuity errors and sets that were reused in other films, adding trivia about the shoot, the issues between Chaney and Evelyn Ankers and between Chaney and artist Jack Pierce, the make-up effects and the critical reaction to the film. An excellent commentary.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There have been numerous releases of The Wolf Man over the years but this Blu-ray release is the same as is currently available in the US and UK. It is also included in The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection (see the summary below) which is also available locally and in other regions. Buy local.

Summary

     The Wolf Man was the first of five films in which Lon Chaney Jr played the unfortunate man who turns into a murderous wolf when the moon is full. While Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy were played by different actors in the sequels to the original films, sometimes by Chaney, The Wolf Man is the only Universal monster where one actor played the part in all the original series. Since then the werewolf continues to be a part of popular culture and has appeared numerous times in films and TV, all of them owing something to the myths established in The Wolf Man.

     Here is your chance to check out the original film in glorious HD. The film looks marvellous on Blu-ray, the audio is the original mono, and the extras are extensive, interesting and informative, resulting in a fabulous Blu-ray package.

     The Wolf Man is available as a stand-alone Blu-ray but it is also included in Universal’s 4 disc The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection which has also Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) on one Blu-ray, Werewolf of London (1935) and She-Wolf of London (1946) on another and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) by itself on another Blu-ray, a collection that is great value for fans of Universal horror.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, September 11, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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