Not long before the U.S. entered World War II, Universal Studios basically set the rules of werewolf movies in stone with its release of The Wolf Man.
Although the studio previously put out Werewolf of London (1935), it was this film that would be the yardstick by which all such films would be judged.
The title character, played by Lon Chaney Jr., returns to England to reunite with his father (Claude Rains) after spending years in America (many have noted that Chaney sounds too American to be the son of Rains, but the film is so good that I, for one, didn’t mind).
Chaney’s Lawrence Talbot later befriends a beautiful woman (Evelyn Ankers), whom he takes out one night. Their encounter with gypsies (one of which is played by Bela Lugosi), leads to a moment which has become part of cinema history.
The film, once again, has great monster makeup by Jack Pierce. Equally memorable, though, is the musical score by Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. The score would be re-used in many subsequent Universal monster films.
But its legacy lies mainly with Chaney, who is instantly likeable and, thus, makes his transformations into a savage beast tragic.
Like Lugosi and Boris Karloff, this film gave its star a memorable career in the horror genre. Unlike Lugosi and Karloff, however, Chaney would actually reprise his signature role in all of Universal’s follow-ups.