I decided to get reacquainted with The Wolf Man this weekend, partially just because it’s been awhile but also because I wanted to check and see if Warren William’s part of Dr. Lloyd was as small as I remembered–yup, it is…at first glance.
Actually, he had more screen time than I recalled, but the good Doctor, who largely questions Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) about his condition and then insists to his father (Claude Rains) that young Talbot has mental problems, could have really been played by anybody. In fact, the same could be said of Ralph Bellamy’s role of Captain Montford, but I often tend to look past Bellamy’s vanilla portrayals anyway. Where William went I don’t know.
Admittedly, Warren William is past his prime here, but at the same time he’s in the midst of what in retrospect turned out to be some of his most enjoyable work in The Lone Wolf series of pictures at Columbia and he comes with enough regard to be billed second only after Rains.
Panning The Wolf Man in its original period review, December 22, 1941, T.S. of The New York Times wrote:
Sharing his embarrassment are Maria Ouspenshaya, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers—who under more nonchalant circumstances would be referred to as a “sterling” cast. Most of them look as though they wished they had a wolf-skin to jump into—any old wolf-skin, so long as it was anonymous.
The Wolf Man is a movie that many of us absorbed at a young age, and thus it’s very difficult to view differently than what we’ve had ingrained since then; that is, purely as a monster movie. I’ve never taken the time to go beyond viewing the classic title and actually research it until this post, and I admit that my sources are limited. Googling “Dr. Lloyd” and “The Wolf Man” I found an interesting snippet from inside Randy Loren Rasmussen’s “Children of the Night” (Note: Affiliate link, as are other book titles which follow and the DVD image above) which does cause me to re-think Dr. Lloyd’s seemingly small role. Of Lloyd, Rasmussen writes:
…He does not believe in supernatural evil, and as presented in The Wolf Man lycanthropy is a debatable subject. But he provides an interpretation of the disease that fits Larry’s situation quite well. “I believe that a man lost in the mazes of his mind may imagine that he’s anything. Science has found many examples of the mind’s power over the body. Case of the stigmata appearing in the skin of zealots.” His reference to “mental suggestion plus mass hypnotism” seems a logical explanation of Larry’s transformation into a monster, which appears to be a communal rather than a purely private affair.
The “mazes of his mind” quote is repeated in Steven Jay Schneider’s “Horror Film and Psychoanalysis” where he writes:
The Wolf Man presents the standard horror film all-in-the-mind explanation that would continue to be heard up through and beyond The Exorcist (1973) and would continue to be just as wrong. In The Wolf Man, we never take the explanation seriously for two reasons: Dr. Lloyd doesn’t figure directly in the plot; furthermore, we possess empirical knowledge to his claims, having already seen Talbot’s lupine transformation.
Both authors seem to agree that Dr. Lloyd’s take on Larry Talbot is dead on in the real world, but not in The Wolf Man. We’ve seen otherwise and thus Dr. Lloyd, while offering a reasonable analysis of Talbot, is wrong–Lawrence Talbot is a Wolf Man.
But since this is a Warren William site I did my best to step directly into Dr. Lloyd’s shoes during this latest viewing and so tried to give him the benefit of the doubt this time around. In doing what research I could for this post I continued to be frustrated by multiple sources referring to the title “Universal Horrors” by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas. I couldn’t find the title excerpted anywhere online except in short snippets when referenced by other titles which just left me wanting more. Just as I was about to give up this lead I found a copy of “Universal Horrors” on my own book shelf!
What intrigued me was the constant reference to comment by Weaver, Brunas and Brunas in reference to an earlier script of The Wolf Man by Curt Siodmak. Here’s the quote which helps vindicate Dr. Lloyd of the completed version of the film:
The script’s one transformation scene (Larry turning into the Wolf Man) is seen in a reflection in a dark pool, through Larry’s eyes, so that the audience will get the impression that Larry only imagines himself to be a monster (italics mine)(268).
The authors further state that “concealed horrors just didn’t fit in with Universal’s formula” (264). The entry on The Wolf Man laments how it has lost some esteem over the years largely out of preference to Val Lewton’s films of the 1940’s, while Siodmak and director George Waggner’s The Wolf Man not only pre-dates Lewton’s Cat People (1942) but that the later picture “while excellent, smacks of imitation” (264).
A side note, in “Universal Horrors” Weaver, Brunas, and Brunas dismiss the performances of both Warren William and Ralph Bellamy as “rather poor” but acknowledged them as “bankable names” for exhibitors. The authors also offer a short bio of William stating that his “career hit its stride in the Pre-Code days,” make mention of his Perry Mason, how he’d been compared to John Barrymore (of course), “but, by the ’40s, his star was fading. He ran the last lap of his career in forgettable B-pictures and on Poverty Row,” though they concede a “memorable performance” in Strange Illusion (1945).
Returning to Doc Lloyd, could there have been more, or more accurately less, to Talbot’s transformations than what we saw? On my most recent viewing one thing which really jumped out in The Wolf Man was that the werewolf that Larry killed with his cane, Bela (Bela Lugosi), was not Lugosi made up similarly to how Chaney later appears, but instead an actual wolf in form. Chaney by comparison looked like something out of the kiddie zoo. If Chaney’s Talbot isn’t a real wolf too then how come Bela’s Bela wasn’t made up in the same style that Chaney was?
So if we at least concede the possibility that Dr. Lloyd was right does that elevate Dr. Lloyd’s, and thus Warren William’s, place in The Wolf Man? I believe it does, or at least, I believe that there is more to the Dr. Lloyd character now than I had previously thought there to be. The shame of it from the perspective of this site is that if the original script were shot as intended, Dr. Lloyd moves into what is undoubtedly a pivotal role.
But I liked The Wolf Man as a kid, and I still enjoyed it this weekend, so I think I’ll abandon my crusade for recognition of Dr. Lloyd for now … until next viewing at least.