The Sea Wolf


1h 27m 1941
The Sea Wolf

Brief Synopsis

Shipwrecked fugitives try to escape a brutal sea captain who's losing his mind.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Release Date
Mar 22, 1941
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Sea-Wolf by Jack London (New York, 1904).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,977ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Release Date
Mar 22, 1941
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Sea-Wolf by Jack London (New York, 1904).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,977ft (11 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Special Effects

1942

Articles

The Sea Wolf (1941)


Among the many tales about ill-fated ocean voyages, obsessive and tyrannical sea captains are usually at the root of the trouble. Some of the more memorable ones include Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, and Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. But none of these misguided authority figures can match the sadism and brutality of Wolf Larsen, the megalomaniac captain of Jack London's novel, The Sea Wolf. First published in 1904, London's story immediately captured the public's imagination with its tense narrative about Humphrey Van Weyden, a literary critic who is rescued from a shipwreck by crewmembers of the Ghost, a seal-hunting schooner. Once aboard the vessel, Van Weyden encounters the captain, Wolf Larsen, who immediately puts him to work as a cabin boy. Larsen is a fascinating enigma - a mystic and a philosopher but also a dangerous manic-depressive who subjects his crew to outrageous acts of cruelty; at one point, Larsen decides to give the ship's cook a bath by towing him in the schooner's wake - an action that results in the cook losing his foot to a shark. As The Sea Wolf builds to a climax, Larsen's behavior becomes increasingly unpredictable and Van Weyden and another shipwreck survivor, Maud Brewster, plot their escape.

Jack London's novel has inspired at least nine film versions with the first one, produced in 1913, remaining the most faithful to the book. Other renditions include the 1920 version with Noah Beery in the Wolf Larsen role, a 1926 version starring Ralph Ince, a 1930 remake featuring Milton Sills, a version entitled Barricade (1950) with Raymond Massey, Wolf Larsen (1958), a pet project of actor Sterling Hayden which starred Barry Sullivan, Larsen: Wolf of the Seven Seas (1975), an Italian production with Chuck Connors in the title role, and a made-for-TV version in 1993 starring Charles Bronson. But by general consensus, the 1941 production of The Sea Wolf, directed by Michael Curtiz, is considered the most effective adaptation due to Edward G. Robinson's definitive portrayal and Robert Rossen's screenplay which accents the psychological and allegorical aspects of the story.

Initially Warner Brothers had purchased the screen rights to London's novel from film mogul David O. Selznick in 1937 as a potential vehicle for Paul Muni and director Mervyn LeRoy. When that fell through, producer Henry Blanke secured it for Edward G. Robinson who wanted to play Wolf Larsen. Director Michael Curtiz was then assigned to direct and he pursued George Raft for the other male lead - George Leach - but Raft dropped out at the last minute when he realized his part was minor compared to Robinson's (It was well known in Hollywood that the two actors disliked each other). Curtiz then tried to draft Humphrey Bogart for the part but he was committed to another picture (The Wagons Roll at Night, 1941) so John Garfield, who had made his screen debut in Four Daughters (1938), also directed by Curtiz, was tapped for the role. It was a personal triumph for Garfield who counted Jack London among his favorite authors but it was an even bigger honor for Robinson who had been a fan of the novel since he first read it at age eleven. In his autobiography, All My Yesterdays, Robinson recalled: "I discovered The Saturday Evening Post and Jack London's tale of the sea, The Sea Wolf. I had no idea at the time that the domineering Captain Wolf Larsen was to be characterized by critics as a Nietzsche superman; I just considered him to be a wonderful character. And that's how I played him, decades later, with John Garfield (who had changed his name from Julie Garfinkle) playing George Leach....John Garfield was one of the best young actors I ever encountered, but his passions about the world were so intense that I feared any day he would have a heart attack. It was not long before he did."

While the 1941 version of The Sea Wolf remained faithful in spirit to the London novel, screenwriter Robert Rossen, who was a fervent anti-Fascist, drew upon current events to establish an obvious parallel between Larsen's dictatorial nature and that of a contemporary fanatic like Hitler. He also made several important changes in the storyline; he split the narrative, giving equal time to the battle of wills between Larsen and Van Weyden (Alexander Knox) and the growing romance between Leach and Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino). In addition, he altered the climax which provided a new demise for Larsen and an unexpected fate for Van Weyden. Leach, who was drowned in the original novel, becomes the central love interest in this version, escaping to safety with Ruth Webster. All of these changes actually strengthened the film on a dramatic level and were further enhanced by Sol Polito's atmospheric cinematography and Anton Grot's art direction - both heavily influenced by the look of German Expressionist cinema. Not surprisingly, the entire film was shot on a sound stage which accounts for its claustrophobic, fog-bound atmosphere, the result of the studio's new industrial strength fog machines. Strangely enough, it wasn't the first time John Garfield and Ida Lupino had been engulfed in thick vapors. They previously appeared together the same year in Out of the Fog, a melodrama set on the Brooklyn waterfront.

In an Oscar year dominated by nominations for Sergeant York, How Green Was My Valley, and Citizen Kane, The Sea Wolf found itself shut out of almost every category. It did, however, score an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects by Byron Haskin and Nathan Levinson.

Producer: Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner, Henry Blanke
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Jack London
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Special Effects: Byron Haskin, Hans F. Koenekamp
Film Editing: George J. Amy
Original Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Principal Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wolf), Ida Lupino (Ruth), John Garfield (George), Alexander Knox (Humphrey), Gene Lockhart (Dr. Prescott), Barry Fitzgerald (Cooky), Stanley Ridges (Johnson), Howard Da Silva (Harrison).
BW-88m.Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

The Sea Wolf (1941)

The Sea Wolf (1941)

Among the many tales about ill-fated ocean voyages, obsessive and tyrannical sea captains are usually at the root of the trouble. Some of the more memorable ones include Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, and Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. But none of these misguided authority figures can match the sadism and brutality of Wolf Larsen, the megalomaniac captain of Jack London's novel, The Sea Wolf. First published in 1904, London's story immediately captured the public's imagination with its tense narrative about Humphrey Van Weyden, a literary critic who is rescued from a shipwreck by crewmembers of the Ghost, a seal-hunting schooner. Once aboard the vessel, Van Weyden encounters the captain, Wolf Larsen, who immediately puts him to work as a cabin boy. Larsen is a fascinating enigma - a mystic and a philosopher but also a dangerous manic-depressive who subjects his crew to outrageous acts of cruelty; at one point, Larsen decides to give the ship's cook a bath by towing him in the schooner's wake - an action that results in the cook losing his foot to a shark. As The Sea Wolf builds to a climax, Larsen's behavior becomes increasingly unpredictable and Van Weyden and another shipwreck survivor, Maud Brewster, plot their escape. Jack London's novel has inspired at least nine film versions with the first one, produced in 1913, remaining the most faithful to the book. Other renditions include the 1920 version with Noah Beery in the Wolf Larsen role, a 1926 version starring Ralph Ince, a 1930 remake featuring Milton Sills, a version entitled Barricade (1950) with Raymond Massey, Wolf Larsen (1958), a pet project of actor Sterling Hayden which starred Barry Sullivan, Larsen: Wolf of the Seven Seas (1975), an Italian production with Chuck Connors in the title role, and a made-for-TV version in 1993 starring Charles Bronson. But by general consensus, the 1941 production of The Sea Wolf, directed by Michael Curtiz, is considered the most effective adaptation due to Edward G. Robinson's definitive portrayal and Robert Rossen's screenplay which accents the psychological and allegorical aspects of the story. Initially Warner Brothers had purchased the screen rights to London's novel from film mogul David O. Selznick in 1937 as a potential vehicle for Paul Muni and director Mervyn LeRoy. When that fell through, producer Henry Blanke secured it for Edward G. Robinson who wanted to play Wolf Larsen. Director Michael Curtiz was then assigned to direct and he pursued George Raft for the other male lead - George Leach - but Raft dropped out at the last minute when he realized his part was minor compared to Robinson's (It was well known in Hollywood that the two actors disliked each other). Curtiz then tried to draft Humphrey Bogart for the part but he was committed to another picture (The Wagons Roll at Night, 1941) so John Garfield, who had made his screen debut in Four Daughters (1938), also directed by Curtiz, was tapped for the role. It was a personal triumph for Garfield who counted Jack London among his favorite authors but it was an even bigger honor for Robinson who had been a fan of the novel since he first read it at age eleven. In his autobiography, All My Yesterdays, Robinson recalled: "I discovered The Saturday Evening Post and Jack London's tale of the sea, The Sea Wolf. I had no idea at the time that the domineering Captain Wolf Larsen was to be characterized by critics as a Nietzsche superman; I just considered him to be a wonderful character. And that's how I played him, decades later, with John Garfield (who had changed his name from Julie Garfinkle) playing George Leach....John Garfield was one of the best young actors I ever encountered, but his passions about the world were so intense that I feared any day he would have a heart attack. It was not long before he did." While the 1941 version of The Sea Wolf remained faithful in spirit to the London novel, screenwriter Robert Rossen, who was a fervent anti-Fascist, drew upon current events to establish an obvious parallel between Larsen's dictatorial nature and that of a contemporary fanatic like Hitler. He also made several important changes in the storyline; he split the narrative, giving equal time to the battle of wills between Larsen and Van Weyden (Alexander Knox) and the growing romance between Leach and Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino). In addition, he altered the climax which provided a new demise for Larsen and an unexpected fate for Van Weyden. Leach, who was drowned in the original novel, becomes the central love interest in this version, escaping to safety with Ruth Webster. All of these changes actually strengthened the film on a dramatic level and were further enhanced by Sol Polito's atmospheric cinematography and Anton Grot's art direction - both heavily influenced by the look of German Expressionist cinema. Not surprisingly, the entire film was shot on a sound stage which accounts for its claustrophobic, fog-bound atmosphere, the result of the studio's new industrial strength fog machines. Strangely enough, it wasn't the first time John Garfield and Ida Lupino had been engulfed in thick vapors. They previously appeared together the same year in Out of the Fog, a melodrama set on the Brooklyn waterfront. In an Oscar year dominated by nominations for Sergeant York, How Green Was My Valley, and Citizen Kane, The Sea Wolf found itself shut out of almost every category. It did, however, score an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects by Byron Haskin and Nathan Levinson. Producer: Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner, Henry Blanke Director: Michael Curtiz Screenplay: Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Jack London Art Direction: Anton Grot Cinematography: Sol Polito Special Effects: Byron Haskin, Hans F. Koenekamp Film Editing: George J. Amy Original Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold Principal Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wolf), Ida Lupino (Ruth), John Garfield (George), Alexander Knox (Humphrey), Gene Lockhart (Dr. Prescott), Barry Fitzgerald (Cooky), Stanley Ridges (Johnson), Howard Da Silva (Harrison). BW-88m.Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

George Raft declined the role of George Leach because it was too small.

The first movie to have its world premiere on a ship: the luxury liner "America" during a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Seventy five carpenters were used to build the Ghost.

Notes

This film marked Canadian-born actor Alexander Knox's American motion picture debut. According to an article in October 1, 1937 Los Angeles Examiner, producer Mervyn LeRoy wanted to film the Jack London novel and planned to borrow Clark Gable from M-G-M to play the role of "Wolf Larsen." Memos reproduced in a modern source note that Warner Bros. offered Paul Muni the part of "Wolf Larsen," but he refused to consider it unless either Rafael Sabatini, Sidney Howard or Eugene O'Neill was assigned as the screenwriter. Subsequently, the film was taken out of development. In 1940, George Raft was offered the part of "George Leach," but as he considered it a bit part, he turned it down. After the success of the 1940 Warner Bros. film The Sea Hawk, the studio revived the project planning to re-use the $400,000 sets built for The Sea Hawk. Anatole Litvak was at that time assigned to direct.
       News items in Hollywood Reporter add the following information about the production: Seventy-five carpenters were used to build the Ghost. Warner Bros. wanted Harry Carey for the film, but he was still working on Shepherd of the Hills . According to press releases in the file on the film in the AMPAS Library, the film's world premiere was the first to be held on a ship and took place aboard the luxury liner America during a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The film received two Oscar nominations for special effects: Byron Haskin was nominated for Best Photographic Special Effects and Nathan Levinson was nominated for Best Sound Effects. Several other versions of Jack London's novel have been filmed: In 1913, Hobart Bosworth directed and starred in The Sea Wolf. George Melford directed a version in 1920 for Famous Players-Lasky, which starred Noah Beery (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.3896 and F1.3897). An earlier version was produced by Balboa Amusement Producing Co., but was legally banned from exhibition (though it May have been screened prior to the injuction). In 1926, Producers Distributing Corp. released a version made by the Ralph W. Ince Corp., which Ralph Ince directed and starred in, and Fox Film Corp. produced and released a version in 1930, directed by Alfred Santell and starring Milton Sills (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.4867 and F2.4668). Allied Artists released Wolf Larsen, starring Barry Sullivan and directed by Harmon Jones, in 1958; and an Italian version, starring Chuck Connors, variously titled Wolf Larsen and Legend of the Sea Wolf, was made in 1975, with Giuseppe Vari directing. In 1993, a television version, starring Charles Bronson and Christopher Reeve, was broadcast on TNT.