The Wolf Man (1941)/Skinner, Salter, and Previn

September 5, 2011

The Wolf Man was the film that really started Lon Chaney Jr. on his career as a monster actor for Universal. In 1942 he played the Mummy and Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man in 1943, and the Wolf Man and the Mummy twice in 1944. Produced and directed by George Waggner for Universal (#7973) the only issue the film had was it just happened to be released on 12/7/1941. The film cost $180,000 to make and is still a money maker to this day. The cast of Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, and Maria Ouspenskaya was ‘A’ class at the time and while it was still considered a ‘B’ movie in my mind it was first class all the way.

After a seventeen year absence Larry Talbot (Chaney) returns to Talbot Castle and his father Sir John (Rains). Right away upon having their fortune told by Bela the gypsy (Lugosi) Gwen’s (Ankers) friend Jenny (Fay Helm) is killed. Since Larry is bitten by Bela who is a werewolf he becomes one. Maleva (Ouspenskaya), mother of Bela tries to help Talbot. She knows and tells the story of whoever is bitten by a werewolf becomes one. Colonel Montford (Bellamy) investigates the case. A triangle develops between Larry, Gwen, and Frank (Patric Knowles). It is well over forty minutes into the picture before he changes to a wolf and you only see his feet in the transformation but you do see his scary face. Jack Pierce, makeup artist for Universal did an excellent job. When Sir John kills what he thought was a wolf it was his son Larry. The transformation from wolf back to human is shown. The sequel to the tale is Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.

This score was not only worked on by Salter and Skinner but Charles Previn, uncle of Andre Previn composed the “Wolf-Bane” track and helped with the “Main Title” as well as “The Kill.” The “Main Title” opens with a new motif of three notes for the Wolf Man character which will follow through other pictures. The opening chords are all brass, somewhat loud but very tonal in nature. The music shifts to Gwen’s theme similar to The Invisible Man Returns, a softer gentler section before a lonely sad trombone repeats the wolf man motif again. “The Telescope” a scene where Larry installs a new part for his father is bright, upbeat, and slightly comical. It changes to Gwen’s theme and ends on a romantic note. “Wolf-Bane” offers Bela’s theme a solo gypsy violin. As it builds to a conclusion we hear Gwen’s love theme again before a tragic moment and the wolfman motif again. This track, or parts of, was one that Universal got a lot of mileage from. “The Kill” is classic horror from Universal, a track used whenever the wolf man is on the prowl. There is just a hint of Gwen’s theme toward the end. “Bela’s Funeral” is a dark scary cue that references the wolfman theme as well as Bela’s Theme with violin and flute. “Desperation” ominous chords set the mood for this adagio track. In addition it is just good underscore filled with yearning. “Sir John’s Discovery,” the final track opens with the wolf man theme, a little yearning from the previous track with more of the theme. It builds to an exciting climax with horns leading the way. The trombone section got a workout. We hear a repeat of the kill track. It aptly ends with the Bela theme and a quiet version of the main theme before the cast of character theme concludes this wonderful little symphony.

Morgan did an outstanding job in his reconstruction and Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony did an excellent job to try and sound like the Universal orchestra. In addition the CD also offers Son of Frankenstein as well as Invisible Man Returns. Some of the best horror music came from the Universal films of the 30’s and 40’s. This CD is available as part of a six pack collection available through SAE for $39.95. I’ve included the clip The Kill which has gone on to fame and fortune in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and other horror films from Universal. Click on this link The Kill from Wolf Man

Track Listing:

1…. Universal Signature (0:15)

2…. Main Title (2:00)

3…. The Telescope (1:24)

4…. Wolf-Bane (4:12)

5…. The Kill (1:05)

6…. Bela’s Funeral (6:55)

7…. Desperation (2:59)

8…. Sir John’s Discovery (8:34)

Total Time is 27:22

Naxos CD# is 8.557705

William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Reconstructed and orchestrated by John Morgan

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One Response to “The Wolf Man (1941)/Skinner, Salter, and Previn”


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