Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lon Chaney, Jr

Of all the monsters created in film, none were scarier than the Universal Studio's monsters.  The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and The Wolf Man. Yet no one seemed to appreciate the characterization of Lon Chaney, Jr's Wolf Man. 

First of all, being a Junior is often a hurdle.  His father, Lon Chaney, was known as The Man of a Thousand Faces (played by Cagney in a biopic).  Senior's double-jointed characters and his ability to change so physically for his numerous roles, made him a star in silent films. He often played a crippled or disfigured person.  His most famous role was The Phantom of the Opera.

Lon Jr. went unappreciated for his Wolfman role.  I suggest, when one of the movies come on, listen to Larry Talbot, the human side of the Wolf Man. Chaney brought so much depth to his werewolf.  The human side, Larry Talbot, lives in torment.  Never did anyone hear a more plaintive cry in film as; Larry Talbot's plea to his fellow men to lock him up on the night of the full moon. This wish rung genuinely from his soul. Larry wanted someone to lock him up before the full moon rose.  At that time, Talbot was helpless to control his Wolf Man side.  He could never get anyone to believe his tale, except the old Gypsy Woman. She knew a werewolf had bitten him, and told him only a silver bullet could stop the rampage.   The next morning Larry Talbot would wake up, usually in his bed, and not know he killed someone. Then came the familiar uprising of the villagers when they found someone ripped apart in the woods. And he lay there full of regret and recalled the full moon of the night before; and that he had killed again.

When one of the movies comes on, just listen to Larry Talbot. Spencer Tracy as Dr. Jeckyll in Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde did not show such a remorseful side as did Chaney's Larry Talbot.

If Chaney wasn't a junior, maybe audiences would have commended his acting more.  He appears again as the Wolf Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which is a very good movie.  Watching the genre as an adult, it's greatness surprised me -- the compelling characters and monsters, the wit, the drama, the sets. But as Lon aged he became an alcoholic and played an occasional role, but he wasn't the actor he once was.  And I think his sadness was that no one praised his performances as Larry Talbot.

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