The Sea Wolf (1941 film)

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The Sea Wolf
Seawolf poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Henry Blanke
Written by Jack London (novel)
Screenplay by Robert Rossen
Based on The Sea Wolf
Starring Edward G. Robinson
Ida Lupino
John Garfield
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • March 21, 1941 (1941-03-21)
Running time
100 minutes (original cut)
86 minutes (re-release cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,013,217[1][2]
Box office $1,881,000[2]

The Sea Wolf is a 1941 American adventure drama 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 L. 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.

The film is set to be screened at the 10th Annual Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Film Festival on April 26-29, 2018 in Los Angeles. The version of the film being screened is the original theatrical cut that was reassembled after 35mm nitrate elements were discovered at the Museum of Modern Art. It includes thirteen minutes of footage that were cut from the film in 1947 when it was rereleased as a double-feature with the film The Sea Hawk. The original cut of the film, digitally remastered and restored, was released through Warner Brothers' Archive Collection on DVD and Blu-ray on October 10, 2017.[3]


Refined fiction writer Humphrey van Weyden (Knox) and escaped convict Ruth Webster (Ida 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 (Edward G. 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 (John Garfield). When Prescott (Gene 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. 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, Death Larsen, 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 (Barry 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, the Ghost is attacked 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.



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 love interest, played by Lupino.[4] Rossen added scenes for this pair, partly urged by Lupino.[5] However, Warner Bros. cut many political items during production.[4]

Box Office

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $1,237,000 domestically and $644,000 foreign.[2]


The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (Byron Haskin, Nathan Levinson) at the 14th Academy Awards.[6]

Radio adaptation

The Sea Wolf was presented on Screen Directors Playhouse on February 3, 1950, with Robinson re-creating his role from the film.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Ed Rudy Behlmer Inside Warner Bros (1935-1951), 1985 p 208
  2. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 21 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. ^ Maltin, Leonard (25 October 2017). "THE SEA WOLF: LONGER AND BETTER!". Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ Neve, Brian (2005). "The Hollywood Left: Robert Rossen and Postwar Hollywood" (PDF). Film Studies: 54–65. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 May 2011. Retrieved 23 Feb 2010.
  6. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-21.
  7. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (3): 39. Summer 2016.

External links

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