powered by AFI
In 1900, fugitive George Leach signs on to sail with the Ghost , a sailing ship captained by the cold, merciless Wolf Larsen, in order to escape the law. Before the ship leaves San Francisco Bay, it picks up writer Humphrey Van Weyden and fugitive Ruth Brewster, who were marooned when their ferry collided with another ship. Van Weyden is immediately struck by the callous nature of the crew and is further alarmed when Larsen informs him that he and Ruth will have to sail with the Ghost . While Ruth lies ill below decks, Van Weyden is put to work as the cabin boy. As the voyage progresses, Van Weyden learns that the ship is not a sealing ship, as he has supposed, but is really sailing the seas to avoid Larsen's greatest enemy, his brother. The ship's cook shows Van Weyden's candid written observations on the brutal conditions on board the ship to Larsen, who is more interested than enraged by them. He tells Van Weyden the story of his rise from cabin boy to his present position and shows him his impressive library. Amused by Van Weyden's sensitive nature, he tells the writer that by the end of the voyage he will have become as soulless as the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, Ruth takes a turn for the worse. Her only chance for survival is a blood transfusion, but Louis Prescott, the ship's doctor, is a drunk and too frightened to perform the operation. At Larsen's order, Van Weyden rouses the doctor who, using Leach's blood, saves Ruth's life. Revitalized by his success, Prescott stops drinking and demands that Larsen order the men to treat him with respect. Larsen agrees, but then, in front of the sailors, kicks him down the stairs. Finally beaten, Prescott climbs the ropes and, before plunging to his death, tells the men the truth about the Ghost 's mission. Leach now formulates a plan to escape from the ship. He and several other sailors throw Larsen and the first mate overboard, but Larsen manages to grab a rope and pull himself aboard. Mutiny openly breaks out, but despite a blinding headache, Larsen reasserts his authority over the men. Later, when Van Weyden discovers Leach hoarding supplies for another escape attempt, he begs to come along and reveals Larsen's secret: he becomes temporarily blind when suffering from his headaches. Leach, Van Weyden, Ruth and Johnson put to sea in a small boat only to discover that Larsen has replaced their water with vinegar. They believe their lives are saved when they see a ship in the fog, but the ship is the Ghost , which has been destroyed by Larsen's brother. When Leach boards the sinking ship to search for supplies, Larsen sees him and locks him in the storeroom. When he does not return, Ruth and Van Weyden come after him. Although Leach advises them to leave him behind, Van Weyden goes after Larsen, who shoots him. Mortally wounded, Van Weyden offers to keep Larsen company as the ship sinks if he will give the storeroom key to Ruth. Ruth frees Leach and they leave to start a new life together. Larsen, however, is left to face his death alone after Van Weyden dies from his wounds.