For Reel


The Sea Wolf (1941)
October 26, 2016, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Michael Curtiz
4 Stars
the-sea-wolfWolf Larsen might be the most savage character ever brought to screen by Edward G. Robinson, who made a name for himself by playing heavies. Robinson’s terrific gift as an actor was that he could balance a character’s savagery with an understood level of character complexity—his heavy in Little Caesar was an ambitious brute, but tragic in his own ways. The Sea Wolf doesn’t ignore Robinson’s thoughtful, intellectual side, but rather exploits it to create a Nietzchean sociopath who proudly declares that it is, “Better to reign in hell then serve in heaven!” Director Michael Curtiz was no stranger to an open sea setting, but here he doesn’t show the heroics of a swashbuckler actioner. Instead, as Larsen slowly descends into madness, the protagonists don’t intend to overthrow him but rather to escape—heroism is ignored in favor of self-interest, with criminals played by John Garfield and Ida Lupino trying to find a way out rather than try to create social change upon the vessel. Memorable as Robinson’s performance is, the cinematography by Sol Polito and art direction by Anton Grot just about steals the show from him. Filmed on a sound stage absolutely bathed in fog, the film’s high-contrast black-and-white imagery recalls the back alley streets of a typical period noir, with the setting of the ship adding to the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia.

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