After a ferryboat capsizes in a fog-shrouded sea, the scavenger ship the Ghost picks up two survivors: Knox, an author and scholar, and the sad, sick Lupino. Captained by the brutal, callous Robinson--who rules his seagoing fiefdom both by physical might and strategic cunning--the Ghost is
manned by shanghaied sailors who have been pressed into service with belaying pins and Mickey Finns in the old British way, except for Garfield, a surly young sailor who has signed on to escape the clutches of the law. Robinson refuses to take Knox and Lupino to shore. Instead, he presses them
both into service, telling the reluctant but somewhat fascinated Knox, "You're soft, like a woman. This voyage ought to do you a lot of good." To humiliate the scholar, but also to gain his company--for the cruel captain is a secret intellectual who, when closeted in his cabin, reads poetry and
philosophy--Robinson makes Knox the cabin boy for the duration of the voyage. In this servitude, Knox functions as a captive intellectual audience of one for Robinson as the captain elucidates his Nietzschean superman theories. During one of these discourses, Robinson is suddenly seized with a
headache that is literally blinding. He attempts to hide this fact, both because he despises weakness and because his condition threatens his absolute control over his crew. Robinson exerts authority over his men more in the manner of a chess master than a ship's master, manipulating them
mentally, divining their weaknesses, and dividing them in order to conquer them. As his condition worsens, however, he becomes locked into a relationship of mutual dependence and fascination with Knox which becomes the ultimate test of each man's character.
THE SEA WOLF contains little of the prolixity of Jack London's philosophically oriented novel, yet it is true to the spirit of the book. The megalomania of the ship's master is wonderfully expressed in Edward G. Robinson's fine portrayal of the contemptuous captain. Alexander Knox's reserve makes
a perfect foil for Robinson's sneering bombast; in his screen debut, this fine stage actor is beautifully restrained. Ida Lupino, in her role as a loser, gives one of her best screen performances; John Garfield is also fine as her masculine counterpart; and a laudable assemblage of Warner Bros.
stock-company character actors ably supports the leads. Required to work a romance into London's all-male work to satisfy studio formula, screenwriter Robert Rossen did very well with the unenviable task. He added the characters played by Garfield and Lupino, which help flesh out the story,
substituting for the novel's uncinematic dialogue. Warner's all-purpose director, Michael Curtiz, performed up to par, shooting all the seafaring scenes in studio tanks. THE SEA WOLF earned an Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score melds well with the excellent
sound effects--the constant creaking of timbers under stress, the whipping of ratlines--that create the ambience of a ship at sea.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: After a ferryboat capsizes in a fog-shrouded sea, the scavenger ship the Ghost picks up two survivors: Knox, an author and scholar, and the sad, sick Lupino. Captained by the brutal, callous Robinson--who rules his seagoing fiefdom both by physical might a… (more)