Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1941: Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman

Lon Chaney Jr. did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Larry Talbot as well as the titular character in The Wolfman.

The Wolfman is decent enough Universal horror film although one can't help but wish James Whale also would have directed this film.

Lon Chaney Jr., the son of perhaps the most famous performer of monsters in the silent era, is the last addition of the most famous of the Universal monsters. Of course the funny thing is the werewolf was already covered once in Werewolf of London played by Henry Hull, but this film and Chaney's rendition of the character is the best remembered now. It is interesting to note that he's ushered in by being supported by two other famous monsters the Invisible Man (Claude Rains) who plays Larry's father, and Dracula (Bela Lugosi) who has an curiously small role as the werewolf who infects Larry. The Wolfman offers a different sort of monster as he is both the least and most malicious of the Universal monsters. On the first end he's the least in that Larry is technically the victim himself by being cursed by becoming the werewolf, but the Wolfman himself does not even have the discretion of Dracula. The Wolfman in full monster mode just viciously looks for the next victim to kill as soon as possible nothing more.

We first meet Chaney as he returns home from a long journey away. Chaney in the early scenes is a very unassuming performer to be sure, but he makes Larry quite likable because of just how unassuming of a guy he is. Even when he spies on a woman with a telescope, and tries to steal her away from her fiancee Chaney does it in such aw shucks sort of way it's hard to ever lose sympathy for the guy. When he gets infected this becomes all the worse since Chaney is so good at being a sad sack. He's such an endearing lug that it's pretty hard to watch him undergo such stress. Chaney is quite good in portraying the devastation in Larry as its absolutely exudes the pain in Larry as he learns what to expect. Adding even more to it is that Chaney is quite moving in portraying such a powerful anguish as Larry realizes that he's been killing people, even for the original wolf when he realizes that he was a man after all. Chaney does well to always keep what the curse does to him past the transformation.

Speaking of the transformation though Chaney actually does not have that many scenes as the Wolfman. It's not surprising to learn that the screenplay originally was written that kept the supernatural element of the story ambiguous because the Wolfman does not have a lot of time on screen. These scenes though are memorable for the fog, the makeup effects on Chaney. Chaney wears them quite well and does manage to create the Wolf as a monster through his animal mannerisms. Really the monster could have been quite silly but Chaney movements are well done. Of course we don't get much as the monster though and in addition this film is not especially long. This leaves a bit of rushed pace for Chaney to portray the psychological decay of Larry before his physical decay as the wolf man. He does well in these confines still, but I feel with a little more time Chaney could have created an even more memorable tragedy in the character. Although the final moment of the film is rather heartbreaking still but a great deal of the credit for that must go to none other than The Invisible Man.


GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Phew. Glad I changed my predictions.

Thoughts/ratings on the rest of the cast, but if you're thinking of saving Rains please do so, I agree with you that he was the highlight of the film's ending.

Anonymous said...

@RatedRStar: what are your ratings and thoughts on Signoret and Ventura in Army of Shadows?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Also would anyone like to offer some retroactive horror castings, seeing as we're on this topic?

Frankenstein (1960s)
The Monster: Toshiro Mifune
Dr. Frankenstein: Maxmillian Schell
Robert Walton: Albert Finney
Alphonse Franklin: Claude Rains
Elizabeth:Julie Christie
Clerval: Max Von Sydow
The blind man: Alec Guinness

The Wolf Man (1980s)
Larry: Jeff Goldblum
Sir John Talbot: Richard Attenborough

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1950s)
Dr Jekll/Mr Hyde: James Mason

(Alternate British 1960s version)
Norman: Tom Courtenay
Marion: Geraldine Chaplin
Aborgast: Donald Pleasance
Norman: Richard Attenborough
Marion: Teresa Wright
Aborgast: Edmond O'Brien

RatedRStar said...

@Louis: I agree with everything although I am a tiny bit surprised you merely thought the film as decent, I would happily put it up alongside the others, especially in terms of dread, atmosphere and nostalgia.


Ventura (4.5) I liked him a tiny bit more, I was fascinated by just looking at this calculated presence, he is like a computer going through thoughts constantly, always prepared and thinking of a plan B, he is like a ninja.

Signoret (5) Signoret is a different kind of screen legend from most actresses, I always find her performances very warm and loving with a passionate pain inside which is something many actresses struggle with, this is no different as she is the most emotionally invested I feel, she always seems to have her whole heart in the cause and even in the resistance members themselves, making her final moments quite heartbreaking.

Michael Patison said...

Can't wait for the hopefully assured review of his father in The Unknown.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts and ratings on Ralph Richardson in The Citadel?

RatedRStar said...

Good old Claude Rains, he is like a little labrador, never lets his master down =D.

Louis Morgan said...


Ouspenskaya - 3.5(She brings a needed grim gravitas to her part as she delivers in making actually her certain grief palatable, while building the threat of the wolfman particularly well)

No one else makes much of an impact other than you know who, who'll save at the moment. Although he's already in the running for Here Comes Mr. Jordan.


Don't get me wrong I liked the film, just with Whale you get an extra bit of directorial flair.


Richardson - 3.5(He's the enjoyable sort of drunk common of the period, but he does it well. He brings a nice warmth and humor to his part creating a strong sense of enthusiasm in his whole manner. When things befall his character later on he makes it properly moving)