Sea Wolf, The (1941): Michael Curtiz’s Sea Adventure Thriller, Starring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, John Garfield

Versatile director Michael Curtiz directed The Sea Wolf, a well mounted adventure thriller, based on the novel by Jack London, starring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, and John Garfield.

Fiction writer Humphrey van Weyden (Knox) and escaped convict Ruth Webster (Lupino) are passengers on a ferry that collides with another vessel. They are rescued from drowning by the Ghost, a seal-hunting ship, helmed by Captain Wolf Larsen (Robinson), a brutal sadist who abuses his crew.

When Prescott (Lockhart), the ship’s drunken doctor, determines that the unconscious Webster needs a transfusion to survive, Larsen “volunteers” John Leach (Garfield), even though it’s unclear if his blood is compatible. It is, and she recovers. As time goes by, they get closer and, despite himself, Leach falls in love with her.

Fear of being hunted drives some crew members, led by the already rebellious George Leach. They 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’s intense headaches leave him temporarily blind, a fact he has hidden from the crew. He knows that he will eventually lose his sight permanently.

In the end, Larsen is determined to go down with the Ghost and take many others with him. Van Weyden tricks Larsen into giving Webster the key by promising to stay with him. This act of self-sacrifice causes Larsen to question his values, until he realizes that Van Weyden is dying. Vindicated in his own mind, Larsen awaits his demise.

Robert Rossen’s redrafted the script with political overtones, so that the tyrannical captain is seen as victim and oppressed–and a symbol of fascism. Rossen split the novel’s idealistic hero into an intellectual bosun and a rebellious seaman and gave the seaman a love interest, played by Lupino. However, Warner cut several explicit political items during production.

The film’s original cut, digitally remastered and restored, was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2017.

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


TCM showed the film on March 9, 2020.