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Humphrey van Weyden, a writer, and fugitives Ruth Webster and George Leach have been given refuge aboard the sealer "Ghost," captained by the cruel Wolf Larsen. The crew mutinies against Larsen's many crimes, and though van Weyden, Ruth, and George try to escape Larsen's clutches, they find themselves drawn inexorably back to him as the "Ghost" sails toward disaster. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jack London's novels usually dealt with the interrelationship between man and nature. Herbert Spencer had corrupted and popularized the theories of Charles Darwin as "the survival of the fittest," something Darwin never wrote and wouldn't have believed anyway. In London's best works Spencer's jargon is not promoted but rather utilized to discredit the doctrine which was being bastardized by the robber barons in the pre-Great Depression world of big business to justify their millions of largely untaxed loot. Not surprisingly London was a socialist. Power hungry, egotistical humans are depicted as animals whose characteristics they share. Wolf Larsen is not unlike a wolf who stalks his prey to devour it one piece at a time.
Though there are significant differences between the novel and the movie, "The Sea Wolf" remains true to form. London would have undoubtedly approved of the film version of perhaps his best work. Wolf Larsen who identifies with the master poet John Milton not just because Milton went blind in a similar way that Larsen was going blind but also because Satan in the serpent as described by Milton in "Paradise Lost" believes many notions that Larsen believes. That he underlines the famous passage, "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven" is indicative of how Larsen views himself.
The consummate actor Edward G. Robinson, who could play any role as if he were that particular character, breathes life into this very complex personality. Obviously Larsen has a conscience and is not totally corrupt and evil. During the famous, telling scene when Dr. Louis "Louie" J. Prescott played to perfection by Gene Lockhart is kicked down the stairs by Larsen just after the sea wolf has told the crew not to pick on him anymore, the viewer can tell by the look in Larsen's eyes and the expression on his face that he has a degree of remorse for what happens next. Satan in the serpent would not possess any remorse. The true embodiment of evil is the Igor-type creature everyone calls Cooky (Barry Fitzgerald, playing against type and giving perhaps the best performance of his career). Full of hate, insidiously mocking his crew mates and anyone else with whom he makes contact, this vile little man shows no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In some ways Larsen is actually jealous of Cooky for being more iniquitous than himself, hence why Larsen turns on him.
A major weakness is the somewhat frivolous romance between George Leach (John Garfield) and Ruth Brewster (Ida Lupino). Both fugitives, it is quite understandable how the two are attracted to each other but that the two would become so close so soon is highly unlikely. Garfield and the multi-talented Lupino were two of the best Thespians of their generation so expect standout performances by each.
A somewhat wild card in the acting department is Alexander Knox as the sensitive writer Humphrey Van Weyden. Later Knox would receive accolades playing President Woodrow Wilson. He does so well in this film the viewer wonders what would have happened had Knox not become overly identified as Wilson to the extent that he never again got a suitable role for his talents. London obviously split his personality when he wrote himself into "The Sea Wolf." His literary side is represented by Humphrey, his adventurous romantic side by Leach.
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