Blu-ray Review – The Sea Wolf – Warner Archive

The Sea Wolf

Director: Michael Curtiz 

Screenplay: Howard Koch and Seton I Miller.

Minutes: 100

Year: 1941

Score: 7.13

Release: Warner Archive

I am an enormous Michael Curtiz fan and for most of my life I didn’t know it. I have not seen and doubt that I ever will, I am glad for The Sea Wolf.


Jack London’s novel The Sea Wolf had it all: action, mystery and widespread popularity. But Jack Warner, claiming the title was too similar to the studio’s The Sea Hawk, wanted to give the 1941 film version something else: a new name. Producer Henry Blanke resisted, saying it would be “a detriment to the box office, (like changing) Gone With the Wind to Molly From the South.” As film fans know, Molly stayed in the South and the haunting nautical adventure took a big bite out of the box office, becoming one of the top moneymakers of 1940-41.

Edward G. Robinson and a superb cast are the hands on deck for this voyage into nightmare. Robinson is Captain Wolf Larsen, a hell-bent seadog who ranks with Moby Dick’s Ahab and Mutiny on the Bounty’s Captain Bligh. Doom is the mad seafarer’s fog-shrouded port of call.and he intends to take a roughneck recruit (John Garfield), two castaways (Ida Lupino and Alexander Knox) and his crew (including Gene Lockhart and Barry Fitzgerald) with him. Adventure – and eerie suspense – ahoy! The Sea Wolf was such a box-office hit that it was given a national theatrical reissue in 1947, but to do so, the film was cut to a length of 86 minutes, and remained that length for 70 years. Long thought to exist only in substandard form, Warner Bros. is proud to present this film as first released in 1941, restoring its original 100-minute running time from 35mm nitrate elements.

I really want to add a list here proving that Michael Curtiz is one of the best directors of the 30s and 40s but I probably only have to mention Casablanca. He is comfort food. I am very grateful for the Warner Archive to finding the original elements and restoring this film.

I cannot say for sure but this, very well, could be the first pirate-noir that I have screened. It reminds me of Key Largo, but on a boat. This is probably because of Edward G. Robinson, but also because it is very well written, well executed, and very interesting.

I’m not sure if I am alone in this but I have spent enough time digging into noir films to sometimes imaging myself in these sort of scenarios. I haven’t been, and frankly I sure that I would not wish them upon anyone, ever, but living with depression applies the blackness of a classic noir is as easy as putting on glasses. That over-lay makes life more clear because the blank nonsense of depression makes more sense when pretending that the world is literally out to get you rather than the truth, you are just bummed.

I don’t think I ever considered putting a noir on a boat, but then, I don’t think about putting any genre somewhere else. This is probably why it works. It is not typical. The necessary noir beats are there but on a foreign setting I started to think that it…well. I shouldn’t finish that sentence. You should finish that sentence. The Sea Wolf is a must have for noir fans.

Special Features:

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Screen Director’s Playhouse Radio Broadcast

Director: 7 – Cinematography: 9 –  Edit: 6 – Parity: 1 – Main performance: 9 – Else performance: 4 – Score: 7 – Sound: 6 – Story: 6 – Script: 9 – Effects: 9 – Design: 7 – Costumes: 7 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10


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