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For the first hour or so, this fictionalized biography of "Jack London"
is not bad. Michael O'Shea brings some energy to the role, and in
general it conveys some of the basic characteristics of its subject's
life reasonably well. The last part of it was heavily tailored to the
time in which it was filmed, and unfortunately it is now only of
interest as an example of how badly a movie can become dated when it
tries to do that.
Most of the movie is a collection of distinct experiences in London's life, tied loosely together. It works all right, and it effectively conveys the irregular nature of his lifestyle, with some courageous acts being mixed in with his involvement in disreputable and even illegal activities. The low budget nature of the production occasionally keeps some of these sequences from being more effective, but it's not bad, though it would have benefited from giving Susan Hayward and some of the other supporting cast members a little more to do.
In the last half hour or so, the story shifts its focus to a lengthy sequence that has London in Japan, reporting on the war between Japan and Russia in the early 20th century. The overt and sometimes forced condemnations of Japan make the sequence now look labored and a bit frantic, though in its time the message may have seemed to be appropriate.
There was surely a middle ground that would have allowed for brief wartime message to be inserted without getting things completely off-track. Many movies of the first half of the 1940s, in fact, do just that, and are able to hold up perfectly well today even when there are a handful of scenes or quotes that were clearly intended to have wartime significance. Jack London was a fine writer and an interesting person, but this movie ends up taking the focus too far away from him and from his life.
"Jack London" (1943) is a film that tells some of the life of author
and news correspondent, Jack London(1876-1916). His work; fish cannery,
fishing boat. Jack's adventures; Alaska gold rush, educational
advances, etc. are somewhat documented, but not as well as I would have
liked. The script dwells on the Japanese treatment of Jack London and
Russian prisoners prior to WWI. There's true information on London
there, but it could be more accurate. Much of it is weak and doesn't
include his political stands.
Since this movie was scripted and filmed in 1943 (mid-WWII), we need to know it was a quickly made WWII film that showed what was going on during a before WWI time. I saw it referred to as 'Japanese bashing' but we must remember we were at war and the Japanese were using their own forms of propaganda for 'America bashing'; remember their famous cartoons and 'Tokyo Rose'. Whether we agree or disagree it is in the past.
And the director, Alfred Santell, and writers, Charmian London(book) and Isaac Don Levine(script) put together a movie that they hoped reflected the spirit of "Jack London".
Michael O'Shea (born: 1906) did a great job of portraying the part of Jack. He did 19 more movies and several TV roles passing away in 1973 of a heart attack.
But a true visual treat was seeing Susan Hayward in the role of Charmian Kittredge London. She added beauty and a fiery loyalty to Michael's temperamental Jack.
Susan (born: 1918) died in 1975 of brain cancer. Susan was a great actress and you can't help but wonder what she would have contributed to the movie world had she been able to continue on.
Jack London's life was certainly colorful enough for a dozen films
about different aspects of him. Sad to say though that what his life
was used for in film was some wartime propaganda that put the best face
on some of the least attractive parts of his character.
Jack London who barely saw the age of 40 when he died wrote some of the best stories around. He wrote on what he knew, but he also wrote as does everyone else bringing the baggage of his own life experience with him. Some of that experience in another day and time would have been condemned as racism. But this was World War II and London was a big believer in the 'yellow peril' as it was called back in the day.
Two thirds of the film covers his life as author, we see his years as a seaman from where he got the inspiration for The Sea Wolf. We see him up in the Yukon in a miner's cabin with a dog that was no doubt his inspiration for The Call of the Wild. London was able to capture the spirit of adventure that his own life was all about right on paper for the world to enjoy ever since.
The final third dealt with his time as a war correspondent covering the Russo-Japanese War. London was a socialist, but his socialism did not encompass folks who were Oriental. Like a few million others he saw the rising immigration of the Chinese and Japanese to our Pacific coast as a threat to jobs for the white people. He advocated strict immigration policies for Orientals.
The film puts the cart before the horse. London is presented as a man who saw because he was on hand at the Russo-Japanese War what Japan's ambitions were and for that reason was as xenophobic as he was. Actually the kind of atrocities present in World War II were not existent during the Russo-Japanese conflict. Japan had her imperial ambitions, but so did everyone else including the USA at that time. But our immigration policies caused by pressure from our West Coast politicians was a big contributing factor to the deterioration of relations with Japan over a couple of generations. London was part of the cause not a prophet crying in the wilderness.
This film was the first independent production of Samuel Bronston who later did some films with a bit more budget than Jack London. Had he a bit more money Bronston might have gotten James Cagney or Spencer Tracy, both who would have been right for the role. Instead they got Michael O'Shea who was making his second film after Lady of Burlesque. O'Shea is fine in the part, but certainly was no box office.
As London is covering the war, he meets up with a Captain Tanaka who is played by Leonard Strong, an actor who specialized in Orientals and played a ton of them in World War II. From the vantage point in 1905 Strong outlines in the best Fu Manchu tradition Japan's imperial aims right up to taking on the USA eventually. Must have gone over great with the swing shift crowd.
A lot of course is left out of London's life including a first wife. Playing the second and only wife in this film is Susan Hayward who only comes into the movie when it's half over. I wish we'd have seen more of her. Charmian Kittredge London survived her husband by almost 40 years dying in 1955.
O'Shea in fact met and married the leading lady of his life in Jack London. Virginia Mayo has a small role in Jack London and they married for 30 years until O'Shea died in 1973.
Maybe one day we'll get a view of Jack London that will be a lot better than this one.
In his brief 40 years on Earth, author Jack London managed to cram as much adventure and incident as would seem possible. This 90-minute film, purportedly a biography of the man's life but patently fictionalized, doesn't even scratch the surface, and remains a story very ripe for a modern-day retelling. Here, Michael O'Shea, in one of his first roles, portrays London, and his performance is both rugged and sympathetic. He is not the problem here. Nor is a young and very beautiful Susan Hayward, playing his future wife, Charmian, whose biography on London is the "basis" for this film. London's life has here been broken down into a series of episodes, which the film skips lightly through. So we have brief incidents with London as an oyster pirate, a sealer in the Bering Sea, a gold prospector in the Yukon and a correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War...colorful events, for sure, but hardly given anything like in-depth treatment. And Alfred Santell's direction (he also directed one of Susan's first films, "Our Leading Citizen," in 1939) is lackadaisical at best. Making things rougher here is a very poor-quality DVD, with a crummy-looking print source and hissy sound. Perhaps the best thing about this movie rental, for me, was one of the DVD's extras: a catalog of all the Alpha Video films, featuring hundreds and hundreds of full-color movie posters. Let's just hope that these films are in better shape than "Jack London"!
No need to repeat consensus pointsthe movie's clearly compromised by
its clumsy propaganda segment. Also, it's a shame more time is not
given to the rigors of the Yukon, the real basis of London's powerful
prose. I wouldn't be surprised that budget constraints cramped this key
phase of his life. Too bad, because London was an outdoor writer who
wrote powerfully about the outdoorssomething you don't get from the
One scene, I think, is worth noting. That's where Prof. Hilliard ridicules student London's uncompromising literary realism. Though the screenplay doesn't elaborate, there's a background assumption to Hilliard's point of view. Namely, that American literature is dominated by the standards of its gentile, well-to-do class with refined tastes and the leisure time to both read and write. Thus, London's raw depiction of life at the bottom comes across as offensive for a number of reasons. It's that impossible leap from the immiserated bottom to the refined top that London's trying to navigate. But more importantly, he's doing it without compromising the integrity of his work.
Now, the screenplay softens this conflict by casting the kindly Davenport as the professor and having him pay tribute to London's "courage" as a budding writer. As a result, hostility to the upsurge of blue-collar writing that London represents is seriously underplayed. Perhaps that's not surprising. After all, WWII was a great national effort where class differences were submerged to the common interest.
O'Shea and Hayward are fine in their roles. However, I agree that a more honest depiction of the great writer's life awaits production. Given the richness of the material, I wonder why that hasn't happened.
Freddy Rich's score is a lush, exciting, melodic treat for Jack London. Freddy was also known as Buddy Rich, a jazz artist. Here, though, he shows his versatility as a symphonic composer, and he was very talented in this realm. Listen to the music when he is working in the Yukon and is alone with his dog in the cabin. Very descriptive of the intense cold and his inspirations. The martial music for the Japanese march is also very impressive. There are other favorite parts for me--like when the police fight it out with the smugglers on the Oakland waterfront. This is a great score; it was nominated for an Academy Award. I think you might enjoy concentrating on the score the next time you view the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack London is one of my favourite writers and the life he lived was so
large - his books seemed almost small in comparison. "Jack London" was
based on the book "The Book of Jack London" by Charmian Kittredge, his
second wife. She had a thirst for adventure almost as strong as Jack's,
so she was not going to dwell too much on his younger days. His first
wife is not mentioned in this movie, she was older than him, they had 2
children together and she really encouraged him to pursue his education
and writing. But they were very mismatched and he eventually left her
to pursue his own interests.
The film begins with Jack's (Michael O'Shea, who looked rather like him) time as an oyster pirate (he was only a teenager when he became one in real life). His best friend, Scratch Nelson, (you can barely make out Regis Toomey) is killed by the Fish Patrol and that event causes Jack to sail out on a sealing schooner for the Bering Sea. The trip is long and harsh (again, in real life, Jack wrote the book "The Sea Wolf" based on some of the characters). After the voyage he enrols at the University of California where his tutor (Henry Davenport) sees greatness and courage in his rough stories. Jack then decides to go to the Yukon and while there he begins to write stories about the miners and the girls who live in the camps. While in pursuit of a gold strike he finds himself snowed in with a dog and writes the book that made him famous - "The Call of the Wild" (in real life Jack London believed Huskies made wonderful pets and helped make the breed popular.)
He returned to America to great acclaim and his life became more meaningful when he met his soul mate Charmian Kittredge (Susan Hayward). She has already fallen in love with him through his books but is afraid she will be disappointed in him as a man. After that small scene, Hayward definitely takes a back seat to his adventures - not at all the way it was in reality. He is asked to cover the Boer War with a London newspaper - even though he has never done any reporting before (again, in real life Jack, who was very passionate about reporting, covered an assignment about poverty in London's East End).
I agree, after the first hour the film quickly descended into a message of propaganda (according to this movie, even back in the early 1900s Japan wanted world domination). The real Jack London deserved much more than this - he did much more. He and Charmian had their own boat and they intended to sail around the world. He explored Tahiti and the Hawaiian Islands and he introduced surfing to California. He covered the San Francisco earthquake and was on one of the last boats out of the harbour. He also introduced organic farming. It is unfortunate that so much time in the film is given over to the Russian Japanese War of 1905 - there is hardly any mention given to his many books.
Louise Beavers had an excellent part as Mammy Jenny, the only mother that Jack really knew. Her best scenes were early in the movie and she gave her part real feeling but by the end she just seemed to be in the background as a family retainer. Beautiful Virginia Mayo had a small but attention getting part as Maimie, the oyster pirate girl. Osa Massen was Freda, the dance hall girl he met in Alaska.
Hollywood's attempt to turn Jack London's life into a "Jack London"
adventure film isn't a bad idea; certainly, he led an interesting, and
sometimes adventurous, life. This film, however, winds up flat and
unsatisfying. Most importantly, it lacks integrity. Michael O'Shea (as
London) has some Londonesque speeches; and, it's nice to see his
bearded Jack receive "The Call of the Wild" after spending some quality
time alone, in the snowy mountains, with his dog, "Buck". Virginia Mayo
and Susan Hayward are both very pretty. The film draws unfortunate
"Yellow Peril" parallels between London's life and World War II, which
are both strained and insulting.
** Jack London (11/24/43) Alfred Santell ~ Michael O'Shea, Susan Hayward, Virginia Mayo
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This fanciful biography bears only a family resemblance to Jack
London's life. (Maybe it should have been called "Jack Liverpool".) The
writer and director have taken a remarkable man whose life went from
the pits through triumph to tragedy and turned it into a moral tale
that belongs in a comic book of the period.
I was a fan of Jack London as a high school kid -- loved his short stories about adventure and adverse circumstances. Later I was able to view his work from a more mature and generous perspective. He wasn't a great writer but he put out some gripping stuff based on his own experiences. "The Sea Wolf," which is barely alluded to in the movie, is a fine work, at least until we get into that plummy romance. Anyone familiar with the San Francisco Bay area should read the opening, in which "Hump" takes a ferry from the city to Sausalito and is rammed in the fog by another ship. It's flawless description. The circumstances are so aptly rendered that it could happen the same way tomorrow.
Okay. So here's Jack London up in the Yukon during the gold rush. That's the source of stories like "The Call of the Wild" and "To Build a Fire." And what do we get? Five minutes of Michael O'Shea in a small log cabin, alone except for a dog, looking out the window at the snow and having a conversation about his work with the dog, Buck, who gives a fine performance, by the way.
The editing is terrible. It's not a flaw or a virtue that brings attention to itself very often. But I couldn't tell whether O'Shea was married to Susan Hayward, just visiting, or shacking up with her. London becomes an "oyster pirate." What is an oyster pirate? Another episode begins with talk of war breaking out and London receives an offer to go to Japan as a correspondent. WHAT war? Who is going to war with whom? Is it World War I? If so, why is London going to Tokyo? The words "Russo-Japanese War" (1905) are never mentioned.
That war itself takes up about the last third of the movie and it's curiously rendered. The movie was released in 1943. The Japanese are all smiles, bows, torture, and treachery. They open the conflict by attacking the Russians at Port Arthur without warning "to get, how do you say in your country, the first punch?" London replies: "You mean a sucker punch." (Kids, that's a reference to the Japanese attack on the US bases at Pearl Harbor in 1941, that led to World War II. PS: We won.) The Japanese massacre pitiful Russian prisoners who are dying of thirst, and they explain to London exactly how they plan to go about conquering the world, including the US and Britain, when the time comes.
In 1963, a big-budget movie called "55 Days at Peking" was released. It was about the Boxer Rebellion in China, which took place 5 years before the Russo-Japanese War. In "55 Days at Peking", the Japanese are our allies, the Russians are shifty, and the Chinese are enemies. Politics makes strange bedfellows.
As London, Michael O'Shea is likable without being a particularly impressive actor. He has a fresh, open face that looks like the map of Ireland. His family were all Irish cops in Hartford. Virginia Mayo is his first girl friend. He goes through one or two more, just in case the audience has any doubt about his gender orientation, until he meets Charmiane, the love of his life, upon whose book this movie is based.
I don't think I'll go on. In life, Jack London did begin his go-to-hell life as an oyster pirate -- robbing the bivalves at night from oyster beds belonging to someone else. He was a union man and socialist, an imprisoned vagrant, a sailor. He did go to the Yukon and did become a famous writer. He was one of the first to establish an artist's colony in Carmel, California, on Monterey Bay. Then he got into heroin and booze and retreated to a ranch in what is now wine country, where he died in 1916.
Aside from the fact that the actor, Michael O'Shea, looked a lot like
Jack London, there is nothing positive I can say about this monstrosity
of a film. It purports to be a film about the life of London, but
frankly it bears about as much similarity to his life as it does
Foghorn Leghorn's or Lassie's! Plus, the real reason for this film is a
thinly disguised anti-Japanese rant.
As far as London's life goes, aside from a few sketchy details, most of his life is unrecognizable in the film. In real life, he was married twice, ran about with prostitutes and died quite young--none of which are even alluded to in the film! Instead, it mostly fictionalizes his life up until he became a war correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War (shortly after the turn of the century). And, while London was really a correspondent at that time, the film is basically an anti-Japanese picture--taking the worst of London's experiences and adding a lot of 'we will one day rule the world' thrown in to boot. Now I DO understand why this was done--after all, the Japanese and US were fighting a war against each other in 1943. And, it was true that there were militaristic forces that felt exactly like the characters in the film--but the film was about 1903-1904--not 1943. And so, to make the Japanese look terrible, the film took many liberties. This is funny, as during the actual Russo-Japanese War, American sentiments were mostly pro-Japanese! The bottom line is that the film makers should have either made a real biography of London or they should have made an anti-Japanese propaganda film. Propaganda films have a positive place if done correctly and reasonably accurately (this IS possible and the US made many such films during the war). Because the film tries to be both, it does a terrible job of both--and completely sanitizes and obscures London's real life exploits (which WOULD make for a fascinating film) and comes off as preachy and fake. Bad propaganda and even worse history--even O'Shea's good acting and the presence of a young Susan Hayward could do nothing to overcome a crap script.
By the way, if you'd like to see a Japanese movie about a real life person that is filled with anti-American propaganda due to it being made during WWII, try watching Akira Kurosawa's film from his Judo series--"Sanshiro Sugata Part Two". While the film was set during the 1800s, an evil American was randomly thrown into the film to get beaten up by the hero of the story and to bolster anti-American sentiments in the audience! It manages to be even more superficial than "Jack London" in this regard.
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