Monday, December 12, 2011

20 Things You May Not Have Known About ‘The Wolf Man’

Today marks 70 years since Larry Talbot first spied the mark of the wolf in the palms of his victims. One of the greatest and most iconic of Universal’s great and iconic monster movies, The Wolf Man is essential viewing for any novice horror hound. Those who wish to further their lycanthropic education may learn a thing or two by boning up on these 20 Things You May Not Have Known About The Wolf Man

1. Universal’s The Wolf Man is not the first film to bear that title. In 1924, Fox Films presented a silent melodrama starring John Gilbert and Norma Shearer called The Wolf Man. No lycanthropes were present.

2. Screenwriter Robert Florey first conceived of a werewolf movie called The Wolf Man in 1932. The potential Boris Karloff vehicle failed to materialize partly because Universal execs feared the officious Catholic Church would take issue with a scene in which the werewolf transformed in a church confessional.

3. Jack Pierce first designed the well-known Wolf Man makeup for Henry Hull in Werewolf of London. Hull supposedly nixed the makeup because it was so uncomfortable to wear.

4. Bela Lugosi was the first choice to play the lycanthropy-spreading Dr. Yogami in Werewolf of London, a role that ultimately went to Warner Oland. Six years later
Lugosi got to fulfill that same function in The Wolf Man as Bela the Gypsy.

5. Universal had raised the $180,000 budget and hired the impressive cast before Curt Siodmak had even written the Wolf Man script!

6. Curt Siodmak designed Chaney’s character to be a random technician sent to tune up the telescope at Talbot Castle. Studio executives demanded Siodmak make character an expatriate member of the Talbot family.

7. Curt Siodmak was against Lon Chaney, Jr., playing Larry Talbot, later saying, “I couldn’t imagine any worse casting than casting Lon Chaney as the son of an English lord.”

8. Curt Siodmak set The Wolf Man in Wales even though there is no specific mention of the locale and barely any evidence of it aside from the Welsh surname Talbot in the completed film.

9. When The Wolf Man went into production, its title was the far less striking Destiny.

10. Siodmak intended Talbot’s lycanthropy to remain ambiguous, only catching sight of himself as a werewolf in mirrors. George Waggner’s more explicit film wiped any possibility that Talbot was only a wolf in his mind.

11. Full moon-induced transformation is now a staple of werewolf mythology, but this idea is noweher to be found in The Wolf Man. Rather, Siodmak’s famed “Even a man who is pure of heart…” poem states transformation occurs when “the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man alters the poem to introduce the full moon’s role in lycanthropic transformation.

12. The hair sprouting from Lon Chaney, Jr.’s, face was not culled from a wolf but a hapless yak.

13. Evelyn Ankers had to work hard to lose her English accent when she went to work for Universal Pictures in 1941. In her introduction to The Golden Age of B-Movies, she wrote that recapturing her natural accent when playing a Brit in The Wolf Man was a challenge. Apparently, it’s a challenge she lost since she sounds pretty American throughout the movie.

14. A filmed scene cut from The Wolf Man found Larry Talbot attacking a tamed bear during the Gypsy carnival sequence.

15. A greasy, mineral oil-based solution created the fog floating throughout The Wolf Man. As quoted in Philip J. Riley’s Classic Horror Films Vol. 12, camera operator Philip Lathrop said the fumes gave “the entire cast and crew… sore eyes and intestinal trouble” throughout filming.

16. Silent film star Gibson Gowland has the distinction of hunting two Chaneys on screen: he is among the mob that pursues Senior’s Erik in The Phantom of the Opera and the one that tracks Junior at the end of The Wolf Man.

17. The opening credits of Ghost of Frankenstein roll over the same forest setting seen in The Wolf Man. The Talbot mansion was also reused in both Ghost of Frankenstein and Night Monster.

18. The Wolf Man is one of John Landis’s favorite monster movies, and he openly acknowledges its influence on his masterpiece, An American Werewolf in London. Less legendary was the decision to cast The Wolf Man’s Ralph Bellamy in one of the lead roles of Landis’s Trading Places.

19. In an interview in Landis’s Monsters in the Movies, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro admits he liked to dress up as The Wolf Man before going to school. While this may have been acceptable on Halloween, doing so on other days of the year drove “the other kids (to) beat the crap out of me!”

20. As the Wolf Man, Lon Chaney, Jr., was the only actor to play a specific monster each time it appeared in a classic Universal monster movie… unless one counts the 2010 remake. But who would do that?
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