Larry Talbot: Lon Chaney, Jr.
Gwen Conliffe: Evelyn Ankers
Sir John Talbot: Claude Rains
Maleva: Maria Ouspenskaya
Bela: Bela Lugosi
Doctor Lloyd: Warren William
Colonel Paul Montford: Ralph Bellamy
Frank Andrews: Patric Knowles
Jenny Williams: Fay Helm
Screenplay: Curt Siodmak
A book opens to a definition of Lycanthropy which includes a reference
to Talbot Castle. Larry Talbot returns to his father's estate
in Wales. No mention is made of a mother, and older brother John
Jr. recently died in a hunting accident. Sir John presumes Larry
left 18 years ago because of resentment over favoritism, although
Larry doesn't confirm this.
Sir John is modest about his award for
and has Larry--a hands-on man, not a theorician--tinker with his
new telescope. With a touch of the "wolf," he spies
on a young woman in an antique shop and into her room above the
store. He visits this shop, smirks about knowing of her earrings
in her room, turns down a cane with a little dog handle and instead
purchases one with a wolf's head and star, or pentagram. Gwen
Conliffe, the young woman and daughter of the shop owner (again,
no mother is in the picture), says that the symbolism involves
werewolves: "Even the man who's pure of heart and says his
prayers at night / May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright." She also reports that the
werewolf can see the pentagram on the hand of his next victim.
Larry wants to stroll with Gwen that evening; she says no, but
he smirks and says he'll be by.
Larry buttonholes Gwen, but she has asked her
friend Jenny to accompany her, so all three go to the gypsy fair.
Jenny prepares to have her fortune told by Bela, wondering when
she'll be married, but his horror makes her ask, "What do
you see? Something evil?" [Yes. Marriage and perpetual
stupidity, you breeder.] He has seen the pentagram on her hand.
Bela transforms (into a German shepherd) and kills Jenny later.
Larry attacks and beats the animal to death with his cane, but
is also bitten.
The ubiquitous pile of pompous men discover
a barefoot Bela where a wolf should be, and Larry's wound has
disappeared. Larry later witnesses the pagan prayer Maleva recites
over her son's coffin: "The way you walked was thorny, through
no fault of your own. But as the rain enters the soil, the river
enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Your suffering
is over, Bela my son. Now you will find peace."
Jenny's mother and other old biddies bitch
to Charles Conliffe about Gwen's responsibility in not guarding
Jenny, implying Gwen is slutty. Larry visits Gwen, but her fiancé
Frank Andrews, the Talbots' gamekeeper, also visits with his dog.
When Larry leaves, Frank says, "couldn't take my eyes away
from that walking stick of his. Be careful, Gwen." Later,
at the gypsy fair, Frank invites Larry: "Let's have fun.
Two guns, please." At a shooting gallery, Larry freaks
when faced with a wolf target. Maleva gives Larry a pentagram
pendant, "the sign of the wolf." Larry then stupidly
gives this to Gwen to protect her.
At home Larry takes off his shoes and shirt
and we see the transformation of his feet. Outside he is dressed
differently and kills Richardson the gravedigger. The next morning
he wipes up muddy tracks in his room and on his sill. Entering
church he and Sir John (in a dark hat) encounter Gwen and her
father (in a white hat), and Larry can't remain for service.
The Doctor tells Sir John that Larry's distress is a case of mass
hysteria, mind over body, like stigmata. Colonel Montford and
Andrews set traps for the wolf.
Larry as wolfman is trapped, but Maleva comes
by on her buckboard and releases him, saying, "The way you
walk is thorny. . . . Find peace for a moment, my son."
Back to being human, Larry warns Gwen that he must run away.
She announces to her father, "I'm going with Larry,"
and Charles is horror-stricken. Larry then sees the pentagram
on her hand and flees.
Sir John wants Larry out of his "mental
quagmire" and deduces that Maleva the gypsy has been involved:
"she's been filling you mind with this gibberish. . . .
You're not a child!" Dad is to lock Larry up this night
and takes Larry's silver cane. We get an electric scene between
a cool Maleva on her buckboard and a nervous Sir John. "You're
not frightened, are you, Sir John?" He accuses her of telling
"witch's tales" to Larry. "But you fixed him,
Sir John. . . . Hurry, Sir John, hurry." Maleva tries to
save Gwen, but she runs into the woods. The wolfman attacks Gwen,
but drops her when he sees Sir John approaching and attacks him
instead. Daddy bludgeons his son to death with the stick.
The wolfman transforms back into Larry in death.
Sir John backs away in horror while Maleva approaches. "The
way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own. But
as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears
run to a predestined end. Your suffering is over. Now you will
find peace for eternity." A story circulates that the wolf
attacked Gwen and Larry came to the rescue, but Sir John is aware,
and Gwen says "Larry" ambiguously.
James B. Twitchell's psychoanalytic reading of this film in Dreadful
Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror (NY: Oxford University
Press, 1985) "transforms" one's enjoyment of The
Wolf Man. He traces in this and other films encoded family
dynamics and incest taboos. In this case, the Talbot "family"
consists of father and son, and has lost mother and brother.
Maleva and Bela (mother and son) supply and function in these
roles and all the parallels (and the weirdness between Sir John
and the gypsy), suggest displaced symbolic relationships. Gwen
lives with her father and no mention of a mother arises. The
two fathers function as doubles. So symbolically, Larry seeks
a relationship with his "sister" (who has no interest
in him and is engaged to the gamekeeper). This is the buried
taboo behind this monstrous transformation.
The saturation of the film with subtle dog
references and appearances also is gratifying. Larry is called
"Master Talbot": "Master" is an interesting
term in light of dog training; and Talbot was a generic and typical
name for a dog in medieval England, like Rover or Spot.