Adventures & Insights

One man's adventures in the physical and intellectual worlds…

Comparative Cinema: The Wolfman


Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

Inspired by my guest post over at EduClaytion and the fact that there are numerous remakes coming soon to cinemas everywhere, I’ve decided to embark on a bit of a comparative review of some of the movies that have been revised, revamped and rebuilt over the years. To kick things off I’ve chosen “The Wolfman”, a movie that was originally released in 1941 and then re-released in 2009.

Naturally, each version revolves around the same theme. They both tell the tale of Lawrence (Larry) Talbot, who returns to his homeland from America after receiving news of his brother’s death. Larry is attacked by a Werewolf and survives but is now cursed to transform into a hairy, bloodthirsty beast each month when the moon is full. Which is a shame, because he was really starting to take a shine to young Gwen Conliffe…

Let’s break them down a little, shall we?

The Wolfman (1941)

The original version has Lon Chaney Jr. cast as Larry Talbot, who returns to his Welsh homeland after hearing of his brother’s death. He’s been in America for almost two decades but as the sole heir to Talbot Castle, Larry finds himself excited about the prospect of settling in. He meets Gwen Conliffe, the daughter of a local antique dealer and immediately takes a liking to her.

The two accompany Gwen’s friend Jenny to a gypsy camp one evening, where Larry is bitten whilst trying to rescue Jenny from a wolf attack. When the authorities arrive, no wolf is found – only the body of one of the gypsies. Larry is adamant that he killed a wolf, however the townsfolk have other suspicions.

Further attacks drive the town to action as the police and townsfolk band together to hunt the demonic killer wolf and Larry finds himself becoming painfully aware that the myths of the werewolf are indeed true and he is succumbing to the beast within him!

The original version of The Wolfman is a solid tale that is thoroughly entertaining. The characters are portrayed well and the storyline is quite direct – there’s no unnecessary sub-plot or over-development of characters and relationships. Given the era of the film; the special effects and sets are simple but they only serve to make the movie a real classic.

The Wolfman (2009)

This 21st Century remake employs all the powers at its disposal and comes off quite well. Once again, Larry (Benicio Del Toro) heads home following dire news about his brother Ben. In this version however, it is Gwen (Emily Blunt) herself who carries the news as Ben was her fiancée.

At Gwen’s request, Larry investigates the circumstances of Ben’s demise and his quest for answers leads to the local gypsy camp. As Larry starts asking around, a creature attacks the camp and Larry is injured in the ensuing chaos. He is rescued and recovers from his wounds, but not without consequence. Nightmares plague him during his recovery and it soon becomes clear to him that he is no longer the same man he once was.

Here is where the two movies take very different roads. With a running time of approximately 110 minutes, the 2009 version is almost twice as long as the original. It uses the time to include some graphic violence, introduce back story and additional characters and take advantage of modern cinematic technology to produce a decent film experience.

In this version, Larry is committed to an asylum and endures torturous “rehabilitation procedures” after being arrested when he is found disoriented and bloodied following a night of attacks on the townsfolk. Further truths about his curse and his past are revealed and naturally there is a dramatic final hunt and confrontation before the ending of the film – left wide open for a potential sequel in true modern Hollywood fashion.

I did find both movies thoroughly enjoyable on their own merits. The original was a classic tale told well through dialogue, action and suspense. The set-up worked well and didn’t waste any time getting to the point. In just one black-and-white hour we followed the unfortunate misadventure of Larry Talbot as he went from friendly, easy-going newcomer to grief-stricken, terrified monster trapsing through the foggy moors before finally meeting his destiny.

The remake carried its own weight while remaining true to the original on which it was based. There were some sections and plot developments that didn’t appeal to me at all but overall the movie was quite well done. While I didn’t feel the same depth of pity for Larry 2.0, I did enjoy following his plight. What really made this version for me was the inclusion of the character Frances Abberline (a fictionalised version of Frederick Abberline). Hugo Weaving‘s inclusion was an excellent decision. He really rocked that beard.

Are there any movies you’d like to see me compare and contrast?

Add your suggestions in the comments!


16 responses to “Comparative Cinema: The Wolfman

  1. therosebandit September 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    AI–I love old cinema…there is just something fantastic…Ben Hur is another one that is a great compare contrast. There are some scenes from the original that I like better 🙂

    Although, you might have convinced me to see Wolfman now….

  2. thoughtsappear September 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Comparing and contrasting originals and remakes is a great idea! How about Dawn of the Dead since Halloween is coming up?

  3. skippingstones September 26, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Have you seen Death at a Funeral? I saw the British take first and loved it so so much. I tried watching the new one and couldn’t get past the first few minutes. But I have friends who only saw the American one and they loved it. I don’t know if I’m being held back by my general dislike of Chris Rock as an actor. Or it may be just the loudness of the American film, even in what little I saw, coupled with my impression of Rock as someone who yells out his lines as opposed to acting them out. The British film seems rather quiet in comparison. Of course, I say this without having actually seen the other one. I do like me some Frank Oz, though.

    • Christian Emmett September 26, 2011 at 8:42 am

      I’ve seen the British version only, which I thought was fantastic. That one will be interesting I think, if some of the US conversions of British TV shows are anything to go by. Not necesarily worse, but I think there’s a noticeable difference.

      Chris Rock definitely has a style that can easily be too much for people.

      • skippingstones September 27, 2011 at 7:46 am

        How do you feel about re-boots? I’m completely enamored with Star Trek right now. I don’t remember seeing the original movies, though I’m sure I saw one or two of them on tv if not in the theater.

        The thing about this one is that the new, “alternate reality” Spock could correct the mistake in the future, then there would not be an angry Romulan heading through a black hole back in time. So there would be no alternate reality. So the old, original Spock would make the same mistake again. So there WOULD be an angry Romulan going back in time and killing Kirk’s dad and creating that alternate reality. So would they just keep repeating these circles for eternity? Time travel is bad business.

        • Christian Emmett September 27, 2011 at 10:24 am

          I don’t mind reboots – I think that the Star Trek movie was great and of course, time travel in any movie will always spark discussion of cause and effect. It’s tricky business, that’s for sure!

  4. Summit10 September 25, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    what if we make another League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with these 2 guys up front? hehehe. Thanks for the comment Christian! Keep on blogging sir 🙂 Cheers!

  5. educlaytion September 24, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I need to see Wolfman. Emily Blunt is in it after all. I met Jonathan Maberry who talked about writing the novelization for the film. That sold about 1 million copies while the movie didn’t do so hot. I’ll be okay just for the Blunt factor.

    As for compare and contrast, the Karate Kid films could work.

    • Christian Emmett September 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      I thought you’d be onto it once you discovered Emily’s involvement. I hope you enjoy it mate, let me know what you think!

      I was hoping to avoid seeing the new Karate Kid movie but since you’ve asked, I cannot say no. I’ll get right on it but I think we both know how it’s going to end. 😉

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  7. Summit10 September 23, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    I was just watching From Hell and Abberline was the Inspector solving the case, guesss they wanted a Van Helsing to counter another malevolent creature 🙂 The Wolfman was a good film IMO, even better the performance of Del Toro and Hopkins. Cheers!

    • Christian Emmett September 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks for stopping in Summit, you’ve got a cool movie blog going on. You’re right I think, there was a distinct feeling of having the Abberline character there to provide the counterpart. I’m glad you liked the movie!

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