The Sea Wolf ★★★★½

The sadistic and tyrannical Wolf Larson (Edward G. Robinson) is captain of the ship Sea Wolf. Although supposedly seal hunting, the ship’s actual objective is the theft of seal skins from other ships. His terrified crew fears and hates Larson but are eager to share the profits from the stolen seal skins.

Before leaving San Francisco, the Sea Wolf has added to the crew a fugitive from the law, the rebelious and independent George Leach (John Garfield). An accident in the fog dumps the passengers of a ferry boat into the bay. The Sea Wolf picks up two survivors, a writer Humphrey Van Weyden (Alexander Knox) and a woman, Ruth Brewster (Ida Lupino), another fugitive from the law.

At sea, the brutal Larson challenges Van Weyden to maintain his humanity and self respect under the conditions of life on the Sea Wolf. George and Ruth, having fallen in love, make plans to escape Larson and his ship.

Robinson is terrific as the sadistic, egomanical Larson, pacing the deck, demeaning his crewmen, beating up Garfield, threatening Knox. Garfield and Lupino, in less showy roles, are nearly as good, and Alexander Knox, in his first American film, makes one wish that he had had more future opportunities to display his talents.

The director, Michael Curtiz, was extremely talented (The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945)) but surprisingly under-appreciated.

Seen at the TCM Classic Film Festival, 2018.