An Informative Historical Research Essay On The Lon Chaney Classic "The Wolf Man"

2108 words - 9 pages

The "Wolf Man" Cometh.A Retrospective by Daniel NobleThe Universal monster films of the late 1930s and early 1940s, were quite a unique phenomenon. Although popular with audiences upon their initial release, they did not reach the height of their commercial appeal until the 1950s, when they reappeared on late night television, and spawned a completely new generation of fandom. Children of the 1950s and 60s, went "monster crazy", and along with screenings of "Frankenstein", "The Wolf Man" and "Dracula" on TV, came publications such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and Eerie not to mention countless others. It was thanks to the immense revisiting of these films, that we can attribute the popular interpretation of the reception of these works. To many, the names Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney are synonymous with classic horror, but in the years prior to the arrival of television, which many classify as the "golden age" of Hollywood, the genre of "Monster Horror" was not yet refined, and it is fascinating to study the effects these films had on society upon their original release. Using the 1941 classic "The Wolf Man" as an example, I will examine the varying factors which led to the film's initial success, and how they have attributed to the mythology of Universal "Horror" as it is interpreted today.It is not uncommon to associate the name Lon Chaney jr. with the horror films of the 1940s. During his contract with Universal in the 1940s, Mr. Chaney was the only actor to portray all of Universal's core assembly of monsters, including "The Wolf Man", "Dracula", "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy", becoming a legend in the process. Yet, prior to 1941, Mr. Chaney was merely a struggling actor living in the shadow of his late father's legacy. According to the official website of the Chaney family, the original press book for "The Wolf Man", included references to the senior Lon Chaney, whose son was clearly being groomed for stardom in his own image. This press book stated "A potential star is uncovered in the person of Lon Chaney, whose father, the late Lon Chaney, Sr. appeared in "The Phantom of the Opera"...and other early horror successes at the same studio"1. To understand the importance of the above statement, one must first be able to comprehend the scope of the popularity of the original Lon Chaney. Deemed the "Man of a Thousand Faces", Chaney, Sr., was one of the most celebrated actors of his era, noted for his ability to transform himself with the aid of self-applied makeup. Naturally this gift for transformation came into good use when starring in such classic silent Horror films as "Phantom of the Opera", "The Monster", and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".Lon Chaney Sr. died in 1930, at the height of his popularity, leaving the film world without its most lauded master of screen horror, and the studio without one of their major sources of revenue. A decade later when "The Wolf Man" began production, it must have came as little surprise, at least to th...

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