Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) is driving home through the nighttime landscape of Vermont during the winter, having trouble seeing the road in the darkness, when suddenly something rears up out of the gloom and hits the car. It skids to a halt and Will gets out to investigate, discovering to his surprise that there's a wolf lying there, apparently dead; as he approaches it, he doesn't notice its eyes open and when he tries to move it onto the verge, it snaps at him, sinking its teeth into his hand. Staggering back to the car, he continues on his way, and the next day he's at the office where he works as a publisher...
And one of the underlings, been there thirty years without making much progress, knowing that it's a matter of time before the axe falls on his job thanks to a corporate takeover and he has to scrabble around for something else before the inevitable retirement. You would do well to remember that state of affairs when the rest of the plot unfolds, because it was key to the understanding of Wolf as a middle-aged man's wish-fulfilment fantasy, as back in the mid-nineties the fact that Jack Nicholson still had it as a ladies' man and was commanding huge salaries for an occasional movie made him the poster boy for men of his advancing years who wanted success at that point in life.
Therefore he was perfect as the all too ordinary, none too impressive Will for the film didn't waste much time in shaking him up and refashioning him as the sort of wily alpha male we all knew Jack was in reality. You could observe the role had been tailored for the star, and he had been trying to get a werewolf flick made with himself as the lead for over a decade, but no wonder when this went through as many rewrites as it did, with director Mike Nichols even going as far as recruiting his old partner in comedy Elaine May to polish up the script. Much mentioned at the time was that the production was in so much trouble trying to get a satisfying ending that it was forced to reshoot the entire third act.
Not something that offers much faith in the final effort, and indeed the film underperformed at the box office, in spite of the killer premise of Nicholson playing The Wolf Man against Michelle Pfeiffer as the romantic trophy he wins during the course of the transformation. That it did wind up with a finale that was a rather disappointing requisite big fight, with the stunt doubles trampolining in slow motion, was more evidence that though updating the vintage Universal horror to the office politics of Nichols' eighties hit Working Girl was a solid one, it didn't necessarily supply a great way to resolve itself, and the fact it was floundering by that stage with an uncertainty of which way to go was very obvious.
Unsure of whether to please the horror fans, which nobody but makeup artist Rick Baker appeared to be among the main talent, or to provide closure to the professional working man side of the narrative, it actually plumped for the latter, and that harmed the reaction to Wolf for a long time. But rewatch it knowing all this, and a funny thing happens: it becomes quite amusing, and among the nineties revamps of classic horror characters this was possibly the best of a mediocre lot. Will's renegotiation of his position as minion to a major player is actually pretty decent, and if you regarded it as the worm that turned style of drama - mentioned explicitly in the dialogue - you had a film which with slightly downplayed glee reimagined the modern office as a hotbed of barely understood, primal and animalistic behaviour as territory was marked and prizes were claimed. Among the supporting cast, James Spader turned in one of his patented sleazeballs with skill, and Om Puri had a good bit as a researcher who asks to be bitten by Will. Could have been better, sure, but by no means a dead loss. Music by Ennio Morricone.
German-born director in America who was part of a successful comedy act with Elaine May. He then turned to theatre and film, directing sharply observed dramas and comedies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22 and the controversial Carnal Knowledge.
After the flop Day of the Dolphin, his output became patchier, but The Fortune, Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, Wolf and Charlie Wilson's War all have their merits. On television, he directed the award-winning miniseries Angels in America.