The Sea Wolf (1941)

Genres - Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Sea Adventure  |   Release Date - Mar 21, 1941 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Seafaring adventure movies rarely come any better than this muscular adaptation of The Sea Wolf. The story has been filmed numerous times, and it's easy to see why: it has all the basic elements of a good tragedy plus the added appeal of an oceanic setting and opportunities for meditations on the nature of good and evil in man. If that last part sounds like heavy going, it's not; in Robert Rossen's expert screenplay, the moral arguments are among the most exciting moments in the movie. Rossen knows exactly how to highlight and phrase the dissertations on morality so that they create sparks and fire, but don't become overblown; the result is a screenplay that's all lean, no fat, but that doesn't feel rushed or skimpy. Of equal importance, Rossen (with more than able assistance from Jack London's original book) has created in Wolf Larsen the kind of towering, repugnant but fascinating character that makes an indelible impression on viewers and stays with them for weeks after. As Larsen, Edward G. Robinson gives an unforgettable performance, one of the finest of his many remarkable performances. Brooding, evil, insecure, frightened -- Robinson captures every facet of this terrible character, never more effectively than when Larsen is pretending kindness in order to set a victim up for a cruel joke. With Robinson, there's no clue that the kindness is an act until the very last minute, when he delivers his devastating blows. The rest of the cast is also top-notch, from Ida Lupino's tough but tender escapee to Barry Fitzgerald's smarmy Cooky, and Michael Curtiz deserves special praise for his spot-on direction, which never makes a false step and which creates a film that positively drips with atmosphere while never stinting for one second on the drama. The Sea Wolf has some minor flaws, but the film is so strong that they barely even register.