The narrative confidence & sheer technical bravura of this film’s opening (at just over a reel) is so brilliantly handled by all hands (on deck & on set), you’ll want to hit pause for a round of applause. It’s classic Golden Age Hollywood at its most assured, spinning a complicated story into clear, continuously exciting entertainment; with leads, supporting players & crew all at the top of their game. And note the well-deserved solo credit card to composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, second only to director Michael Curtiz. Robert Rosson did the fine job on Jack London’s tricky tale of sadistic ship captain Edward G. Robinson & a cutthroat crew, as well as John Garfield’s anarchist-on-the-run. Add-in Ida Lupino’s desperate streetwalker & Alexander Knox’s literary intellectual, both plucked out of the sea.* The speed this gets put into place is thrilling, along with Anton Grot’s production design & Sol Polito’s fog-bound atmospherics. Told with a vicious, grown-up tone & nihilistic attitude that can still shock, there’s something to make you jump or gasp every few minutes as the ship reveals what the bloody hell is really going on. WOLF has taken ages to show on DVD, largely because of a re-release that clipped nearly a reel & a half off the original running time, with inestimable damage to Curtiz’s editing rhythms. Part of this was simply a trim for a double-bill with the similarly trimmed SEA HAWK/’40. But in WOLF’s case, there was also a bit of politically tinged ‘lefty’ speech-making to worry about from Rosson (an ‘admitted’ Communist who ‘named names’) and an acting line-up of Blacklisted & Grey-listed actors like Howard Da Silva & even Eddie G. You really couldn’t trust Eddie. Not only was he what was known as a ‘Pre-Anti-Fascist (meaning various liberal/humanitarian causes supported before war broke out), but he also had a world-class collection of impressionist & modern art. An obvious danger to society.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The Golden Year of the Golden Age of Hollywood is always awarded to 1939, a year where one director (Victor Fleming) could turn out GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ. But ‘41 has it champions, what with CITIZEN KANE; HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY; HOLD BACK THE DAWN; LITTLE FOXES, MALTESE FALCON; SERGEANT YORK; SUSPICION; HERE COMES MR. JORDAN; BALL OF FIRE; TOM, DICK AND HARRY; THE LADY EVE; NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH; MEET JOHN DOE; THAT HAMILTON WOMAN; STRAWBERRY BLONDE; SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS; 49TH PARALLEL; DUMBO; HIGH SIERRA; and yet another wolf, THE WOLF MAN; to name but a few. (And that’s only English-language pics.) Take that 1939! Heck, take that 2017.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Knox & Lupino’s meeting is a gender reversed swipe from Robert Donat & Madeleine Carroll’s in Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS/’35.