The Sea Wolf (1941 film)
|The Sea Wolf|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
|Written by||Robert Rossen|
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson
|Music by||Erich Wolfgang Korngold|
|Editing by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||March 21, 1941|
|Running time||90 minutes (Originally released at 100 min.)|
The Sea Wolf is a 1941 black-and-white film adaptation of Jack London's novel The Sea Wolf with Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, and John Garfield. The film was written by Robert Rossen and directed by Michael Curtiz.
The Sea Wolf has several connections to the city of London, Ontario, aside from the source author's surname. Producer Jack Warner and cast member Gene Lockhart were both born in the city and cast member Alexander Knox attended university there. For these reasons, the film's Canadian premiere was held at London's Capitol Theatre.
Refined fiction writer Humphrey van Weyden (Knox) and escaped convict Ruth Webster (Lupino) are passengers on a ship that collides with another vessel and sinks. They are rescued by the Ghost, a seal-hunting ship. At the helm is the brutal Captain Wolf Larsen (Robinson), a compassionless individual who delights in dominating and abusing his crew.
Larsen refuses to return to port early and forces van Weyden to work as the new cabin boy, replacing the rebellious George Leach (Garfield). When Prescott (Lockhart), the drunken ship's doctor, determines that the unconscious Webster needs a transfusion to survive, Larsen "volunteers" Leach, even though there is no way to test if his blood is compatible. Fortunately, it is, and she recovers. As time goes by, she comes to depend on Leach for protection and, despite himself, Leach falls in love with her.
Most of the film is centered on Larsen’s peculiar character. He is very well read, yet cannot see anything useful in his education. When Prescott complains about the way he is treated, Larsen orders the crew to respect his dignity, only to conclude by kicking the man down some stairs for his and the crew's amusement. Prescott climbs the mast and reveals that Larsen's own brother, another sea captain, is hunting him, having vowed to kill him; Prescott then throws himself to his death.
Leach and several other crewmen ambush Larsen and throw him and his first mate overboard. However, Larsen manages to grab a trailing rope, climb back aboard, and put down the mutiny. Larsen cannot afford to lose any men, so instead of punishing them, he betrays his informant, the ship’s cook (Fitzgerald), to them. They drop him in the water, holding onto a rope for dear life. Before they can pull him back in though, a shark bites off his leg.
Eventually, Leach, Webster, van Weyden, and another crewman escape on a dory. However, they discover that the wily Larsen had replaced their water supply with vinegar. The fourth man later sacrifices himself by going overboard to help conserve the little water they have.
Larsen is subject to intense headaches that leave him temporarily blind, but has managed to hide his condition from the crew. He knows that he will eventually lose his sight permanently. When Larsen's brother catches up with him, a cannon shot holes the Ghost and it starts to sink. The ship escapes into a fog bank, but Larsen goes blind again and his debility is revealed to all. The crew seizes the opportunity to take to the boats.
Then, van Weyden, Leach, and Webster sight the Ghost and, having no other choice, reboard her. The ship appears to be deserted so Leach goes below for provisions. He is surprised by Larsen and locked into a compartment. Larsen is determined to go down with the Ghost and take as many others with him as he can. Van Weyden tries to get the key from Larsen and is fatally shot, but manages to hide the fact from the now nearly blind captain. He tricks Larsen into giving Webster the key by promising to stay with Larsen to the bitter end. This act of seeming self-sacrifice disturbs Larsen, causing him to question his whole philosophy, until he realizes that van Weyden is dying. Vindicated in his own mind, Wolf Larsen awaits his demise.
- Edward G. Robinson as Wolf Larsen
- Ida Lupino as Ruth Webster
- John Garfield as George Leach
- Alexander Knox as Humphrey van Wyden
- Gene Lockhart as Louis J. Prescott
- Barry Fitzgerald as Cookie
- Stanley Ridges as Johnson
- David Bruce as Young Sailor
- Francis McDonald as Svenson
- Howard Da Silva as Harrison
- Frank Lackteen as Smoke
Robert Rossen's re-draft of the script may be the greatest influence on the film. While the tyrannical captain remained both victim and oppressed in a capitalist hierarchy, he became a symbol of fascism. Rossen also split the novel's idealistic hero into an intellectual bosun and a rebellious seaman and gave the seaman a mistress, played by Lupino. Rossen added scenes for this pair, partly urged by Lupino. However, Warner Bros. cut many political items during production.
See also 
- Ed Rudy Behlmer Inside Warner Bros (1935-1951), 1985 p 208
- Williams, Tony (1998). "From Novel to Film". In Rocco Fumento, Tony Williams. Jack London's The sea wolf: a screenplay. SIU Press. pp. xvii–xxvi. ISBN 0-8093-2176-9. Retrieved 3 Mar 2010.
- Neve, Brian (2005). "The Hollywood Left: Robert Rossen and Postwar Hollywood". Film Studies: 54–65. Retrieved 23 Feb 2010.