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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection (1935-1946)

"Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself."
- Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: July 27, 2004

Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Ilona Massey, Don Porter, June Lockhart, Henry Hull, Warner Oland
Other Stars: Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lionel Atwill, Sara Haden, Valerie Hobson, Spring Byington
Director: George Waggner, Roy William Neill, Stuart Walker, Jean Yarbrough

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild horror violence)
Run Time: 04h:39m:10s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 025192445828
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+B+B B+

DVD Review

Although most of the notable monsters of Universal's horror boom were direct adaptations from literature, on occasion the horrors came from original scripts. Such was the case with the wolf man series. The most famous grouping of these was Lon Chaney Jr. 's portrayal of the tormented Lawrence Talbot through five films. However, since most of those also involved other monsters, only two of Talbot's outings appear on this collection, the balance spread between the Frankenstein and Dracula Legacy Collections, and the fifth will be on the forthcoming third volume of Abbott & Costello films. The shortage is made up by two other unrelated werewolf films from Universal, making for a somewhat less than cohesive grouping.

Disc one features the debut of Talbot and the Wolf Man in The Wolf Man (1941). Larry returns to his ancestral home of Talbot Castle (in an unidentified Wales) to assume his role as heir apparent to Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). Entranced by Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), Larry takes her to a gypsy carnival where he meets Bela (Bela Lugosi) and Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya). When a companion is attacked and killed by a wolf, Larry attempts to come to her aid, killing the wolf and becoming injured in the process. But the next morning it seems that instead of a wolf, Larry has in fact killed Bela. A mourning Maleva warns Larry that he too will now bear the curse of the lycanthrope, and before long he learns just how true that warning is.

This outing is really a high point in the fortunes of Universal's monster series, with a relatively intelligent script and a terrific cast. The enormous Chaney's not especially credible as the son of tiny Claude Rains, but he nonetheless gives an effective performance both as the lusty and somewhat perversely voyeuristic Larry, and the effect that the release of his animalistic urges has upon him is frequently moving. Lugosi's good in a small part, and Ouspenskaya is very memorable with her rhyme, "Even a man who is pure at heart....". Rains got his start in horror with The Invisible Man in 1933, so he doesn't act like he's slumming but gives a very good portrayal of a distant father attempting to make amends with an estranged son and unable to deal with the supernatural reality that has befallen him. Jack Pierce's classic makeup is still effective, and the transformation scenes through dissolves are carefully done. It's quite a commendable piece of work all the way round. Clocking in at just under a scant 70 minutes, there's hardly an ounce of fat or filler on its bones.

The other layer of disc one features the followup and the first monster teaming in the series, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Although Chaney died three years earlier, he turns up alive in a hospital, wondering what happened and aching for a cure. He tracks down Maleva (Ouspenskaya reprising her role), who tells him that he cannot be killed (though why Bela could be is not explained). She suggests that Dr. Frankenstein may be able to help him. Their trip to Vasaria proves disappointing when they learn that the doctor is dead. But he has a daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey), and she may know where the doctor's records are. The Frankenstein Monster (Lugosi) is found trapped in a block of ice, and the secrets of the death that Talbot seeks seem to be hidden in the Monster. But as the title implies, not all goes well along this line of research.

This film unfortunately had a troubled production history, originally being shot with Lugosi's monster being blind, as he had been left in Ghost of Frankenstein the year before, but able to speak in Ygor's voice. Continuity was chucked, leaving the monster voiceless and groping around for no particular reason. There's a ton of scientific mumbo-jumbo that doesn't even pretend to make sense, and there's a lot of talk before we actually get to the good stuff. The final battle is somewhat anticlimactic, and the ending brutally abrupt, but for classic monster fans it's an absolute must.

Years before Chaney donned the yak hair, however, Henry Hull essayed a similar role in Werewolf of London (1935). Botanist Wilfred Glendon (Hull) is on an expedition to obtain a rare flower when he's bitten by a half-human creature. Returning with the flower to London, he is visited by Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland, Charlie Chan himself), who insists the flower is the only known cure for lycanthropy, or as it's referred to here, lycanthrophobia. Glendon scoffs at the notion, but when he turns monstrous and murderous with the full moon, he learns the truth, only to find out that the blooms of the flower have been stolen. The film contributes some notable facets to the werewolf legend, most significantly the notion that the werewolf will instinctively kill the thing he loves best, in this case Glendon's wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson). The picture is full of nifty character touches, from the silly and saucy socialite Ettie Coombes (Spring Byington), a philandering zookeeper and a pair of hard-drinking little old ladies. An interesting montage of telephone calls moves the plot along with rapid cuts in the space of a few seconds. The makeup is more subtle than Chaney's, and rather stylized, emphasizing the man over the wolf, which is appropriate for a creature that has presence of mind to put on a hat and coat before going out on its nocturnal prowls.

Wrapping up the set is the oddball She-Wolf of London. This essay in psychological horror a la Val Lewton is fairly subtle and certainly restrained. Phyllis Allenby (an impossibly young June Lockhart) suffers from strange blackouts, and awakens to find her hands bloody and her shoes muddy. Worse still, women and children are being ripped to shreds at night in the nearby park. Is it the dreaded Allenby Curse of lycanthropy, or is she just going mad? Using a technique considered at one point for the Chaney film, the question is left quite open until the last three minutes. Among the supporting cast is Dennis Hoey, Inspector Lestrade himself, who proves none the more capable as a policeman in this film. It's extremely brief (61m:10s), and thus manages not to significantly wear out its welcome. Anyone looking for the standard transformations and lycanthrope violence will be advised to look elsewhere. But there are interesting visuals, including some startling Dutch angles when Phyllis' sanity is most deeply in question.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The films are on average in pretty good condition, with speckling at the reel changes the main problem area. The Wolf Man has an odd greenish tinge to it that doesn't seem right. Werewolf of London is in the roughest shape but it's still quite nice for a 70-year-old picture. Black levels are reasonably deep, with a decent greyscale and shadow detail. These are for the most part fairly dark films and there is surprisingly little artifacting . Even She-Wolf, with its heavily fog-shrouded scenes, looks quite nice, thanks to an extremely high bit rate that's almost always above 8 Mbps.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: All four pictures carry a standard 2.0 mono track. While there's some nominal hiss and occasional crackle, these are satisfactorily clean and free of disturbing noise. Werewolf of London is the exception, with a fairly noisy track full of crackle and occasional burring, but dialogue is still quite clear. As one would anticipate for pictures of this vintage, the music on all four is tinny and thin and quite lacking in bass content. But under the circumstances, there's nothing much to complain about.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian Tom Weaver
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 52m:30s of Werewolf of London

Extras Review: The 1941 film carries a snarky commentary by Tom Weaver that covers the prior drafts of the film and unmade pictures as well as plenty of trivia regarding the making of this film. Weaver's an engaging and knowledgeable speaker and this commentary is a joy to listen to. Stephen Sommers, director of Van Helsing, offers his 5m:37s take on the werewolf legend, paying lip service to the classics but essentially going in a completely different direction. The CGI monster from that film compares highly unfavorably to the primitive yak hair makeup that Chaney wore.

Disc 2, a two-sided DVD-14, carries a very thorough 32m:35s documentary, Monster by Moonlight, hosted by John Landis, director of An American Werewolf in London It looks at all Universal's werewolf movies, with special attention given to makeup artist Jack Pierce, with interesting comments by Rick Baker. Wrapping up the package are Realart rerelease trailers for all of the pictures except the 1941 Wolf Man for some reason, even though it was present on the original DVD release, as well as still galleries and production notes that are also AWOL here. Considering the presence of only four instead of five films, there should have been plenty of room to include these materials. And why wasn't June Lockhart called upon to provide a commentary for She-Wolf?

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Four werewolf films from the classic era make for a horror fan's dream come true. The transfers are quite good, and the extras are excellent, if not copious.

 


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