WOLF, THE (director: Michael
Curtiz; screenwriters: Robert Rossen/based on the novel by Jack London;
Polito; editor: George J. Amy; music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold;
cast: Edward G.
Robinson (Wolf Larsen), Ida Lupino (Ruth Brewtser), John
Garfield (George Leach), Alexander Knox (Humphrey Van Weyden), Gene Lockhart (Dr. Louis
Prescott), Barry Fitzgerald (Cooky), Stanley Ridges
(Johnson), Howard Da Silva (Harrison), Francis McDonald
(Svenson); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR;
producer: Henry Blanke; Warner Bros; 1941)
"Exciting sea yarn."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca"/"Four Daughters"/"King Creole") directs this exciting sea yarn, that's based on a Jack London novel published in 1904. The literate screenplay is by Robert Rossen.
In 1900, in the San
Francisco harbor, refined writer Humphrey Van Weyden
(Alexander Knox) and wanted fugitive Ruth Brewster
(Ida Lupino) are rescued by the seal-hunting schooner
the Ghost after the ferry they are on capsizes
crashing into another vessel in the fog. The
megalomaniac captain of the Ghost, Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson), won't take them back to
port and they're stuck going on the seal-hunt with the
Ghost and its crew of degenerate misfits. The callous
captain makes the upper-class writer a cabin boy and
revives the drunken ship doctor Louis Prescott (Gene
Lockhart) so he can revive Ruth with a blood
Also aboard of interest are
the following: George Leach (John Garfield), a surly hot-headed
criminal who signs on to escape the law. Veteran
sailor Johnson (Stanley Ridges) is shanghaied and the cook (Barry Fitzgerald) is the captain's
knife-wielding low-life stoolie.
The gist of the film is
about the inhuman captain delighting in bullying the
crew and breaking the spirit of his men so they obey
him no matter what. The story turns into a battle of
wits between the well-read but brutish captain and the
humanist intellectual writer. The deceitful captain we
soon learn is trying to escape to an unknown island
from his enemy brother's more powerful ship, armed
with a cannon, and not hunting seals--but telling the
crew they will steal the seals from his brother's boat
and become rich, in order to keep them from mutiny.
The Lucifer theme is lifted
from a Milton poem that states 'Better
to reign in hell than to serve in heaven,' which is
the captain's credo.
the ship doctor commits suicide rather than face
being ridiculed, Leach organizes a mutiny and throws
the captain and his loyal first mate Svenson (Francis McDonald)
overboard. But the captain returns and again takes
control of the ship. Finally Leach, Ruth, Johnson
and Van Weyden escape the Ghost in a small boat, but
Larsen anticipated the escape and filled their water
carriers with vinegar. Returning to the Ghost for
supplies, the escapees must confront only the
captain, as the crew left on small boats after his
brother's boat the Macedonia destroyed his ship.
Suffering from severe headaches that leave him
temporary blind, the captain accepts his fate of
going down with the ship. The film's rosy moment is
that in the end the two fugitives have a chance to
escape and begin a new life, as they grab their
needed supplies and head for the nearest port in
their small boat.
at the onset of the Nazi power grabs in Europe and
the beginning of the war, in this allegorical pic
the captain is depicted as a malevolent dictator,
like Hitler, who uses cruelty to keep his subjects
in line and promises to make his loyal subjects rich
with lies about obtaining stolen riches.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2012 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ