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The Sea Wolf (1941)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama | 21 March 1941 (USA)
After being fished out of the sea by a sealer, three fugitives find themselves prisoners of the ship's brutal skipper who refuses to put them ashore and they hatch an escape plan during a crew mutiny.


Michael Curtiz


Jack London (novel), Robert Rossen (screen play)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Edward G. Robinson ... 'Wolf' Larsen
Ida Lupino ... Ruth Brewster
John Garfield ... George Leach
Alexander Knox ... Humphrey Van Weyden
Gene Lockhart ... Dr. Prescott
Barry Fitzgerald ... Cooky
Stanley Ridges ... Johnson
David Bruce ... Young Sailor
Francis McDonald ... Svenson
Howard Da Silva ... Harrison
Frank Lackteen ... Smoke


Humphrey van Weyden, a writer, and fugitives Ruth Webster and George Leach have been given refuge aboard the sealer "Ghost," captained by the cruel Wolf Larsen. The crew mutinies against Larsen's many crimes, and though van Weyden, Ruth, and George try to escape Larsen's clutches, they find themselves drawn inexorably back to him as the "Ghost" sails toward disaster. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


"POWER...FURY...RAGING...HATE...FEAR...UNFORGETTABLE!" The POWER and FURY of the RAGING sea surged from the pen of Jack London as he wrote this story of HATE-ridden 'Wolf' Larsen and his FEAR-crazed crew! And now, the year's greatest cast brings it to the screen...every scene alive...and UNFORGETTABLE! See more »


Adventure | Drama


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

21 March 1941 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Sea Wolf See more »


Box Office


$1,013,217 (estimated)

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


(re-release) | (original) | (TCM print) (edited)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In 1947, Warner Bros. reissued the film under a double-feature with The Sea Hawk (1940). However, to squeeze more showings per day, "The Sea Wolf" was cut from 100 minutes to 86 minutes. The edits were made to the original camera negative and the footage was subsequently discarded. A 16mm print that once belonged to 'John Garfield' was in the possession of New York University, but Warner Bros. refused to release the film on DVD until a 35mm print of the longer version could be found. Warner ultimately found a complete 35mm print at the Museum of Modern Art, restored it, and released the film on DVD and Blu-Ray in October 2017. See more »


Before the ferry is struck by the freighter, the captain of the ferry shouts "hard a-port", and the helmsman immediately starts turning the wheel to the right (starboard). In those days, the captain was directing which way to push the tiller or assembly, not the boat itself. see details below. See more »


Humphrey Van Weyden: There's a price no man will pay for living.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The film was cut by approx. 12 minutes at some point (probably for reissue) down to 90 minutes - which is what is currently distributed on home video. The footage consists of little, but integral, moments throughout the story which add considerably to the quality of the film as a whole. The only known existing print of the original theatrical version is a 16mm print which belonged to the film's star, John Garfield. This print has reportedly been used to restore the picture to its original length. See more »


Version of Wolf Larsen (1958) See more »


Ma Blushin' Rosie
Music by John Stromberg
Lyrics by Edgar Smith
Played on piano and sung by Jeane Cowan in the bar
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Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

"There is a price no man will pay for living"
1 December 2006 | by imogensara_smithSee all my reviews

It's amazing what a really good actor can pull off. In the Jack London novel on which this film was loosely based, Wolf Larson is tall, blond, Scandinavian, an "ubermensch" flaunting his invincible strength and power over other men. Edward G. Robinson was very short and dark, almost gnome-like with little stubby hands, a homely face and nasal voice. Yet somehow he fills this improbable role, making Larson at once larger than life and credibly human.

Larson is, of course, the "sea wolf" of the title, captain of the Ghost, a mysterious, perpetually fog-enshrouded schooner. Manned by a crew of brutal and brutalized men, the ship is ostensibly hunting seals, but its real destination is a show-down with Wolf's brother, the even more colorfully named Death Larson. We never learn much about this sibling feud, or about the backgrounds of the major characters. Aside from Larson, there is George Leach (John Garfield), who signs on with the ship to escape a prison rap, and two passengers rescued from the wreck of a ferry in San Francisco harbor: Ruth (Ida Lupino), an escaped convict, and Van Weyden, a well-bred writer who becomes, as observer and interpreter of the action, the film's central consciousness. Larson refuses to put the two castaways ashore, seemingly out of pure spite. Leach plots to escape the ship, and the threat of mutiny hangs in the air.

As this summary suggests, the movie's plot is as foggy as its atmosphere, but this doesn't matter very much. The atmosphere, at once raffish and eerie, and the beautifully drawn characters provide plenty of interest, and there is also a serious and compelling theme. Larson's motto (from Milton) is "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." Van Weyden, who becomes the secretly intellectual captain's confidant, realizes that Larson is afraid to leave his ship because only as its captain can he enjoy absolute power; on shore he would be forced to compete with his equals and betters. His sport is humiliating his victims and stripping them of dignity and self-respect. He gratuitously insults and torments all those who attempt to challenge him: in addition to Leach and Ruth, there is Louis (the excellent Gene Lockhart), a broken, alcoholic doctor who tries to recover his dignity after saving Ruth's life with a transfusion of Leach's blood. Larson won't let him, of course, and his desperate response prompts the writer's comment, "There is a price no man will pay for living." Larson even turns against Cookie (Barry Fitzgerald), his most loyal crew-member. Fitzgerald is spectacularly loathsome, shrieking with laughter and scuttling around his galley like a demonic leprechaun.

John Garfield, to his credit, was never reluctant to take supporting roles in films he admired. His part here, while secondary, is a pip: a defiant young roughneck, smarting with wounded pride, looking terrific in a tattered sweater and fisherman's cap. He gets a great introduction in the first scene, walking into a waterfront dive where he brushes off a pickpocket ("If you find anything in there, brother, I'll share it with you") and knocks out the recruiter who tries to slip him a mickey. On board the Ghost, he's the only one of the sailors who rebels against Larson; when ordered to address the captain with respect, he manages to make "sir" sound like a four-letter word. "Don't worry," he says before the transfusion, "This kind of blood never cools off."

Ida Lupino is wonderful (when was she not?) as the convict who has lost her spirit; her pathetic lady-like act keeps giving way to flashes of anger and underlying sadness. She and Garfield make a perfect couple, and their romance, which could have seemed like a sop to the box office, is deeply touching. Like Garfield, Lupino regularly played tough, resentful hard-luck kids. But her pale, waif-like delicacy and wistfulness contrast nicely with Garfield's rough-hewn sturdiness and combustible temper. They have three good scenes together: one where she finds him huddled like a whipped puppy in the ship's hold (he has been beaten after assaulting the captain) and they smoke cigarettes together. Initially hostile—he tells her scornfully that he only stood up for her because "I can't even stand to see a dog beg, much less a human being"—they quickly bond. He urges her to keep fighting and boasts that Larson can never break his spirit, while she wearily responds that nothing makes any difference to her anymore. Later they talk in a doorway, Ida in her nightgown, and he touches her arm, realizing that his own blood is running through it. They don't kiss, but their chemistry is palpable. Finally they play a love scene on either side of a locked iron door, whispering to each other with their lips touching the wall between them.

Eventually Larson's invincibility starts to crack, as he suffers from crippling migraines and hysterical blindness. He remains too vicious to arouse any pity, but Robinson makes him a fascinating monster. He conveys such a dominant, overpowering will that you hardly notice he's not physically imposing; his sneering voice, nasty laugh and devious intelligence make him genuinely scary. The intense performances of the whole cast knit together this unusual blend of boy's-adventure-story entertainment and serious drama, a classic of the Warner Brothers' minor-key style.

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