Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Sea Wolf (1941) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

A restored version of the classic adventure THE SEA WOLF (1941) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

This new Warner Archive release is the first time the film has been seen in its original 100-minute release version since 1947, when 13 minutes were pared out of the film's theatrical re-release print to shorten up double bills.

The restored print is thanks to a 2nd generation 35mm nitrate print from New York's Museum of Modern Art. Leonard Maltin wrote more about the restoration last fall, including informative quotes from Alan K. Rode, biographer of the film's director, Michael Curtiz.

It had been over a decade since I last saw THE SEA WOLF and reviewed it here, and this print was certainly a great way to revisit it.

Honestly, while there is much to admire about the film, I also find the oppressive atmosphere exhausting. Every ten years is about as often as I can handle watching it! That said, it was certainly worth it this time around to see the complete version for the first time.

Based on the novel by Jack London, from a script by Robert Rossen, THE SEA WOLF is the story of sadistic sea captain Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson), and those aboard his ship, the Ghost.

The Ghost is filled with a motley crew including George Leach (John Garfield), a fugitive who took work aboard the Ghost in order to flee San Francisco; Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino), a prison escapee picked up after a ferry wreck, along with intellectual writer Humphrey Van Weyden (Alexander Knox); a rotten cook (Barry Fitzgerald); and Dr. Prescott (Gene Lockhart), an alcoholic.

Robinson's Larsen is evil personified, and the viewer's heart breaks for each of the characters he torments in turn. Leach is soon contemplating finding a way to escape, along with Ruth. Garfield and Lupino are excellent, connecting over their hard lives and discovering that perhaps they're not doomed to suffer alone through life after all.

Van Weyden, for his part, has philosophical debates with Larsen, trying to understand -- along with the audience -- why Larsen is as he is. Van Weyden then attempts to stir mutiny after learning Larsen occasionally suffers from a debilitating, blinding malady...

As is sometimes the case for me with other films with difficult subject matter, I found THE SEA WOLF an easier watch the second time around, knowing what to expect. It's a brutal film, but it's also a great exemplar of a Warner Bros. film of the era, a stylishly made and exciting adventure which keeps viewers on the edge of the proverbial seat, wondering how it will all turn out -- even on a second viewing. I found watching the gorgeous Warner Archive Blu-ray a satisfying experience on multiple levels.

The supporting cast includes Howard Da Silva, Stanley Ridges, and David Bruce.

A note for Southern Californians: A digital presentation of this restored print will be shown at UCLA on March 17th as part of the ongoing series celebrating director Michael Curtiz. The restored version will also be shown at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

The restored black and white film, photographed by Sol Polito, looks superb on the Warner Archive Blu-ray. Sound quality is also strong. Blu-ray extras are the trailer and a 1950 Screen Directors Playhouse radio production starring Robinson.

In addition to the Blu-ray reviewed here, the Warner Archive has also released THE SEA WOLF on DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

This sounds like a wonderful addition to anyone's movie library, especially with the missing 13 minutes. Everyone is excellent, but any scene with Robinson and Knox is particularly engrossing to me. However, as you say, the oppressive nature of the piece makes it not the sort of thing you want to pop in on a whim. It takes a certain frame of mind to deal with life on The Ghost.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You're exactly right! I think that's one reason I didn't get it reviewed quite as quickly as I'd intended -- it's a film I like but you do have to kind of steel yourself for it!

That said I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the film to add this version to their library, it's just beautiful! And complete!!

Best wishes,

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, another good review. Edward G. Robinson was a great actor, one of my all time favorites. I don't think he ever gave a bad performance. Wolf Larsen, was hands down, Robinson's most psychotic role ever. His Wolf Larsen makes his Rico in LITTLE CAESAR(1931) and Johnny Rocco in KEY LARGO(1948) look tame. I've seen a lot of 1930's and '40's movies, but this must have been quite a shocker when it hit the screens in 1941, which was another great year for masterpieces. I don't remember seeing this one as a youngster, but I know I saw it in the 1980's. Once you view THE SEA WOLF you will never forget Edward G. Robinson's great performance.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Walter! Robinson sure did psychotic well -- although I admit I like him best when he was on the side of law and order, as in THE STRANGER (1946), or cast against type as Margaret O'Brien's farmer father in OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945).

I like to try to imagine what it must have been like for an audience to see a film for the first time when it came out, in the context of movies up to that point in time.

Best wishes,

8:55 PM  

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