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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
George Waggner
Cast:
Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi
Writing Credits:
Curt Siodmak

Synopsis:
A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist.

Box Office:
Budget
$355,000.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA Mono
French DTS Mono
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 69 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 9/2/14

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver
• “Monster By Moonlight” Featurette
• “From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth” Featurette
• “Pure in Heart” Featurette
• “He Who Made Monsters” Featurette
• “100 Years of Universal: The Lot” Featurette
• “Wolf Man Archives”
• Trailer Gallery


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RELATED REVIEWS


The Wolf Man [Blu-Ray] (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 22, 2018)

Although I've never been a big fan of monster movies, I enjoyed contemporary screenings of 1931’s Frankenstein and 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein quite a lot. As such, I thought I'd push my luck and round out my collection with the another title in the Universal Studios "Classic Monsters" collection: 1941's The Wolf Man.

After a long time away, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) returns to his family estate in England. As he reacquaints himself with his father Sir John (Claude Rains), Larry also gets to know the locals – especially attractive saleswoman Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers). Larry pursues Gwen in a romantic manner and ends up on a semi-date with her that also includes Gwen’s pal Jenny Williams (Fay Helm).

When the threesome visits a gypsy village to get their fortunes read, Jenny ends up dead, apparently due to a wolf attack. The beast also bites Larry, and this apparently infects him with lycanthropy, a curse that turns our hero into a werewolf.

The Wolf Man delivers a bit of excitement, but it doesn't approach the heights of some of the earlier horror flicks. Unlike most of its peers, it doesn't really attempt a form of elegantly creepy atmosphere, so The Wolf Man seems broader and more traditional than most of the others.

Even though I didn't much like 1932's The Mummy or the Tod Browning edition of Dracula Dracula - the Spanish version is vastly superior – I did at least appreciate their eeriness. I miss that tone in the fairly flat The Wolf Man.

Compared to those films, however, The Wolf Man does offer more overt excitement, and it moves the plot along at a better pace. It just seems more pedestrian and workman-like than it needs to be.

Overall, Wolf Man features a strong cast, with the notable exception being Chaney as our title character. He does well in his brief scenes as the monster but he encounters much more difficulty when he tries to pull off his "human" segments.

Even if we ignore the fact he's supposed to be British - which Chaney most definitely is not – the role of Larry Talbot really calls for a more dashing “leading man” sort. Chaney seems so dopey and goofy that I just can't accept him in the part.

Chaney’s shortcomings may seem most apparent when Larry woos Gwen. After he first spies her through his telescope, he uses his surreptitious observations to gather info about his would-be girlfriend and won’t take “no” for an answer when she rebuffs his approaches.

In other words: stalker alert! I recognize that I shouldn’t view a 1941 film through 2018 eyes, but boy, does it seem difficult to interpret Larry as anything other than a creepy guy when he spies on Gwen and nags her for her attention.

I bring this up because I think Chaney’s flaws make this situation worse. If someone more charming played the part, Larry would seem less like a stalker, but Chaney’s attributes make him tough to swallow.

Even with these issues related to Chaney’s performance, I like The Wolf Man a bit more than The Mummy or the Browning Dracula, but all remain largely on a par for me. I'll try them again at some point, but I have a feeling they'll stay on a level far below that of the two James Whale Frankenstein movies and the Spanish Dracula.

As an aside, what's the deal with the extremely abrupt endings we find in these films? They all just kind of stop as soon as they hit their climaxes. It's like monster's dead - BAM! End credits!

Did anyone teach these folks about the denouement in high school? I find these conclusions to be rather jarring.


The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

The Wolf Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. I’ve been pleased with the other Universal Monster Blu-rays but this one came with flaws.

Overall definition seemed positive, but that side of things suffered from negatives, mainly because the image presented artificial sharpening. I noticed light but consistent edge haloes that affected detail in a negative manner.

No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I thought the movie came with digital noise reduction. This led to a “smoothed-out” feel that impacted definition and led to a somewhat bland impression.

In terms of print flaws, small but persistent specks cropped up throughout the movie. These never became dominant, but they created consistent distractions.

Blacks became a strength, as dark tones offered nice richness. Contrast was less winning, though, mainly because the noise reduction created a dull finish to the image. Given the movie’s age, I still thought the image was good enough for a “C+”, but after the splendid transfers of the film’s predecessors, it became a disappointment.

At least the flick’s DTS-HD MA monaural audio held up well over the last 75 years. Speech consistently appeared concise and intelligible, without edginess or other issues.

Music offered reasonable clarity; the score lacked much range but those elements seemed well-reproduced for their vintage. The same went for the effects, as those seemed a little thin but gave us accurate enough information. This became a better than average track for something from 1941.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? I no longer had access to that release, but I still feel secure that the Blu-ray beats it. Even with its concerns, it almost certainly brought a superior visual and auditory experience.

The Blu-ray duplicates most of the DVD’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from film historian Tom Weaver. He gives us a running, screen-specific look at historical influences and the script, story/characters, changes from the screenplay and deleted/unshot scenes, cast and crew, makeup and effects, and connections to other movies.

Though usually film historians remain pretty serious, Weaver manages a light and occasionally sarcastic tone about The Wolf Man. He's more than happy to mention the film's flaws and this semi-critical tone makes the track all the more compelling. He packs a ton of information into this piece and offers a fun, informative discussion.

A series of video programs follow. Hosted by filmmaker John Landis, Monster By Moonlight runs 32 minutes, 37 seconds and includes remarks from screenwriter Curt Siodmak, makeup artist Rick Baker, film music historian John Morgan, conductor William T. Stromburg, nd Universal Studios Archives and Collections director Jan-Christopher Horak.

“Monster” looks at the historical antecedents of werewolves, story/characters and the project’s development, makeup and effects, cast and performances, sets, music, and subsequent related efforts. “Monster” comes with a tight focus and covers a lot of territory in its relatively brief time. It turns into a solid overview of the film.

Next comes The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth. It lasts 10 minutes, two seconds and features Landis, Baker, filmmakers Mick Garris and Joe Dante, horror historians Stephen Jones, Steve Haberman and Kim Newman, and author Jonathan Rigby.

The program gives us a mix of movie overviews as well as an appreciation for it and its genre. Some of this repeats from “Monster” but we get a decent dollop of new thoughts.

During the 36-minute, 53-second Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr., we hear from Newman, Haberman, Jones, Dante, Rigby, Landis, Bsker, film historians Bob Burns and Gregory William Mank, monsterkid.com’s Kerry Gammill, filmmaker Jack Hill, producer/friend AC Lyles, and actors Janet Ann Gallo and Sid Haig.

As expected, “Heart” gives us a biography of actor Chaney. With a good allotment of clips from Chaney’s films as well as useful notes, “Heart” offers a nice summary.

He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce fills 24 minutes, 56 seconds with info from Haberman, Baker, Jones, Newman, Burns, special effects makeup artists Nick Dudman, Kevin Haney, Michele Burke, Tom Savini, Thomas Burman, Bill Corso, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, biographer Scott Essman, and horror historian Christopher Frayling.

As expected, “Monsters” offers a look at the work of iconic makeup artist Jack Pierce. This offers a smattering of insights -–mainly in regard to the methods Pierce used – but it seems awfully praise-heavy. That factor means we get less information that I’d like.

With 100 Years of Universal: The Lot, we find a nine-minute, 25-second featurette that gives us comments from filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Peyton Reed, Ivan Reitman, Peter Berg, John Landis, Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Phil Alden Robinson, and John Carpenter, NBC Universal Archives and Collections director Jeff Pirtle, Universal Studios Hollywood tour guide Molly Orr, and actors Dan Aykroyd, Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. This one takes us around the Universal Studios locations and tells us a little about movies made there.

What does any of this have to do with Wolf Man? Very little. Midway through a short discussion of Universal horror, we get a quick snippet from the film but that’s it; no one discusses the flick at all. Despite the featurette’s disconnect from Wolf Man, it seems pretty fun. While it aims to promote the greatness that is Universal, it’s still light and likable.

Under The Wolf Man Archives, we locate a running montage of stills. It occupies six minutes, 46 seconds and shows movie advertising/art,

Finally, we get a Trailer Gallery. It provides clips for Wolf Man, Werewolf of London, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and She-Wolf of London.

Despite its status as a classic, 1941’s The Wolf Man seems erratic to me. While it comes with some good action, a lackluster lead performance mars it. The Blu-ray brings us well-preserved audio and a nice roster of supplements, but picture quality seems compromised. Wolf Man ends up as a spotty horror tale.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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