Never Cry Wolf (film)

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Never Cry Wolf
Never Cry Wolf Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Carroll Ballard
Produced by Lewis Allen
Jack Couffer
Joseph Strick
Screenplay by Curtis Hanson
Sam Hamm
Richard Kletter
Based on The autobiography 
by Farley Mowat
Narrated by Charles Martin Smith
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Hiro Narita
Edited by Michael Chandler
Peter Parasheles
Walt Disney Pictures
Amarok Productions Ltd.
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • October 14, 1983 (1983-10-14) (New York City)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million
Box office $27,668,764

Never Cry Wolf is a 1983 American drama film directed by Carroll Ballard. The film is an adaption of Farley Mowat's 1963 autobiography Never Cry Wolf and stars Charles Martin Smith as a government biologist sent into the wilderness to study the caribou population, whose decline is believed to be caused by wolves, even though no one has seen a wolf kill a caribou. The film also features Brian Dennehy and Zachary Ittimangnaq.

The film has been credited as being responsible for the establishment of Touchstone Pictures, which was created by the Walt Disney Studios a year after the film's release. In the early 1980s, Walt Disney Pictures, under the guidance of Walt Disney's son-in-law Ron W. Miller, was experimenting with more mature plot material in its films, drawing controversy regarding its traditional family-friendly image being affected.

The narration for the film was written by Charles Martin Smith, Eugene Corr and Christina Luescher.


A young, naive biologist named Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) is assigned by the government to travel to the isolated Canadian arctic wilderness and study why the area's caribou population is declining, believed due to indiscriminate wolf-pack attacks. Tyler receives a baptism of fire into bush life with a trip by bush plane piloted by an odd, adventurous bush pilot named Rosie (Brian Dennehy). After landing at the destination, Rosie leaves Tyler and his gear in the middle of a subzero Arctic nowhere. Unsure of where to start, Tyler's indecision quickly imperils him until he is rescued by a travelling Inuit named Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq), who builds a shelter for him.

Alone, Tyler's days are divided between research and mere personal survival, while nights are fraught with anxiety-born nightmares of wolf attacks upon him. He soon encounters two wolves — which he names George and Angeline, who have pups, and discovers they seem as curious of him as he is of them, slowly dispelling their mutual fears. He and the wolves both begin social exchanges, even urine-marking their territories, producing trust and respect between them.

A person of procedure, Tyler soon discovers the simple, blunt arctic is indifferent to his sense of order: weather extremes, ranging from cold snow to warmer heavy rains, compromise his shelter, his paperwork duties, his research. Complicating matters further are an invasive horde of Arctic mice: they are everywhere, frustrating him and the wolves, yet the wolves seem to cope with the madness by eating the mice, which Tyler emulates in his own bizarre way to see if an animal can survive on mice alone.

Another Inuit named Mike (Samson Jorah) encounters Tyler, sent by Ootek for companionship. Mike knows English and Inuit, translating between Ootek and Tyler. Tyler's descriptions of his new lifestyle receive lengthy responses from Ootek, which Mike coyly translates as "Good idea!" Ootek, the elder, is content and curious, while Mike seems not only more reserved but unhappy with the Inuit way of life, confessing to Tyler his own social apprehensions, including that of his deteriorating teeth. Tyler soon discovers that Mike is a wolf hunter, killing for pelts. Also, Tyler demonstrates a trick he's learned to Mike and Ootek: by playing certain notes on his bassoon, Tyler can give a fair imitation of a wolf howl, calling other wolves in.

Fall nears, and Tyler hears that the caribou are migrating south, which will provide an opportunity for him to study the concept his superiors want to confirm; however, it also provides another bonding occasion between Tyler and the wolves as he helps drive caribou towards the pack, which soon takes a caribou down. Having gained the wolves' trust, Tyler takes a bone and samples the marrow, discovering the dead caribou to be diseased. It confirms the wolves, true to Inuit lore, are not the perceived ruthless, savage killers but rather Nature's instrument for keeping the caribou strong.

Tyler encounters Rosie nearby with two hunter-guests, making plans to commercially exploit the area's resources. Rosie's lot has improved, having moved up to a nicer turboprop bush plane on floats. Rosie insists on flying out Tyler, who defiantly refuses; Rosie then offers to extract Tyler from his research campsite in two days, the time it will take him to hike back. Tyler is alarmed at the realization that Rosie has already been to his camp.

Tyler returns to the base to find things very still. He ventures into the wolves' territory and goes into their den, only to find the pups cowering in fear. Rosie's aircraft approaches outside. Believing that Rosie killed George and Angeline, Tyler goes out, angrily shouting at Rosie to leave. Rosie continues his approach until Tyler starts firing his shotgun at him. Rosie grimaces, then takes off.

Tyler goes to his camp to find Mike resting, preparing for his final hike home. Mike's nervous demeanour causes Tyler to suspect the truth: it was Mike, not Rosie, who shot the wolves. Without saying it directly, Mike confirms Tyler's suspicions, revealing he has new dentures (and several other luxuries of the modern world), saying "This thing that's happening is bigger than you. It's a question of how you survive it. Survival of the fittest." He leaves, hiking for home.

Some time later, Tyler goes to a high point at the base and plays the wolf call on his bassoon, bringing in other wolves in George and Angeline's pack. The pups are quickly absorbed into the pack, and will live to fight another day. Tyler reflects sadly on his time here, and how he may have helped bring the modern world to this place. The narration implies that Tyler will eventually return to civilization and recover from his experiences here. Ootek has returned, and he and Tyler break camp and trek across the fall tundra, enjoying each other's company, along with the words of an Inuit song:

"I think over again my small adventures, my fears.
Those small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things I had to get and to reach.
And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing:
To live to see the great day that dawns
and the light that fills the world."


  • Charles Martin Smith as Tyler, a biologist without any survival skills, yet bold enough to study wolves in their environment.
  • Brian Dennehy as Rosie the bush pilot, a carefree type who exploits the region for money.
  • Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, an Inuit who helps Tyler survive the wilderness.
  • Samson Jorah as Mike, Ootek's companion, caught between his Inuit ways and the modern world.
  • Hugh Webster as Drunk
  • Martha Ittimangnaq as Woman
  • Tom Dahlgren as Hunter #1
  • Walker Stuart as Hunter #2


The fundamental premise in Never Cry Wolf is that life in the Arctic seems to be about dying: not only are the caribou and the wolves dying, but the indigenous Inuit people and their way of life as well. The animals are losing their habitat and the Inuit are losing their land and their resources while their youth are being seduced by — and pressured into — modernity. They are trading what is real and true, dicing away their time-honoured traditions for the perceived comforts and securities of the modern world.

Never Cry Wolf blends the documentary film style with the narrative elements of drama, resulting in a type of docudrama. It was originally written for the screen by Sam Hamm but the screenplay was altered over time and Hamm ended up sharing credit with Curtis Hanson and Richard Kletter.[1] [N 1]

Smith, who had previously worked with Disney on films such as No Deposit, No Return and Herbie Goes Bananas, devoted almost three years to Never Cry Wolf. Smith wrote, "I was much more closely involved in that picture than I had been in any other film. Not only acting, but writing and the whole creative process." He also found the process difficult. "During much of the two-year shooting schedule in Canada's Yukon and in Nome, Alaska, I was the only actor present. It was the loneliest film I've ever worked on," Smith said.[2]

L. David Mech, an internationally recognized wolf expert who has researched wolves since 1958 in places such as Minnesota, Canada, Italy, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, and on Isle Royale, criticized the work, stating that Mowat is no scientist and that in all of Mech's own studies, he had never encountered a wolf pack that regularly subsisted on small prey, as related in Mowat's book or in the film adaptation.[3]

Filming locations [edit]

The film locations for Never Cry Wolf included Nome, Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and Atlin, British Columbia, Canada.[4]


Critical response [edit]

When Never Cry Wolf was released, a review in the Los Angeles Times called the film, "... subtle, complex and hypnotic ... triumphant filmmaking!"[5]

Brendon Hanley of Allmovie also liked the film, especially Smith's performance, and wrote, "Wolf's protagonist [is] wonderfully played by the reliable character actor Charles Martin Smith... The result is a quirky, deceptively simple meditation on life."[6]

Ronald Holloway, film critic of Variety magazine, gave the film a mostly positive review, and wrote "For the masses out there who love nature films, and even those who don't, Carroll Ballard's more than fits the commercial bill and should score well too with critical suds<sic> on several counts."[7]

Some critics found the premise of Never Cry Wolf a bit hard to believe. Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, wrote, "I find it difficult to accept the fact that the biologist, just after an airplane has left him in the middle of an icy wilderness, in a snowstorm, would promptly get out his typewriter and, wearing woolen gloves, attempt to type up his initial reactions.[8] Canby added, the film was "a perfectly decent if unexceptional screen adaptation of Farley Mowat's best-selling book about the author's life among Arctic wolves."

The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 100% based on reviews from eighteen critics, with an average rating of 7.7 out of 10.[9]




Box office [edit]

The film opened in limited release October 7, 1983 and went into wide circulation January 20, 1984.

The film was in theatres for 192 days (27 weeks) and the total US gross sales were $27,668,764. In its widest release the film appeared in 540 theatres.[12]

Comparisons to book[edit]

There are several differences in the film when compared to Mowat's book. In the book, Ootek and Mike's roles are reversed, Mike is actually Ootek's older brother (Ootek is a teenager) and Ootek speaks fluent English and communicates openly with Mowat while Mike is more reserved.

The film adds a more spiritual element to the story while the book was a straightforward story. The film also isolates the characters while in the book, Mowat meets several people from different areas of the Arctic.

Also in the book, the wolves are not killed and neither did the bush pilot bring in investors to build a resort.[13]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Never Cry Wolf is the first Walt Disney Pictures film to show naked adult buttocks (of actor Charles Martin Smith).[1]


  1. ^ a b "Sam Hamm." NNDB/Soylent Communications. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  2. ^ "Charles Martin Smith interview." Official John Carpenter web site, April 22, 2001.
  3. ^ Shedd 2000, p. 336.
  4. ^ "Filming locations: Never Cry Wolf (1983)." IMDb. Retrieved: November 4, 2014..
  5. ^ "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Los Angeles Times, Calendar Section, October 7, 1983.
  6. ^ Hanley, Brendon. "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Allmovie. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  7. ^ Holloway, Ronald. "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Variety, September 1, 1983.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent. Review: Never Cry Wof."The New York Times, October 14, 1983.
  9. ^ "Never Cry Wolf ." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  10. ^ "BSFC past winners." Boston Society of Film Critics. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  11. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards (1984): Nominees and Winners." Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  12. ^ "Never Cry Wolf (1983); Arctic tale." The Numbers {Nash Information Services). Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  13. ^ Mowat 2001, p. 13.


  • Mowat, Farley. Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001. ISBN 978-0-31688-179-1.
  • Shedd, Warner. Owls Aren't Wise and Bats Aren't Blind: A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife. New York: Broadway Books, 2001, first edition 2000. ISBN 978-0-60980-797-2.

External links[edit]