|John Garfield, Ida Lupino, The Sea Wolf|
|Alexander Knox, Edward G Robinson, The Sea Wolf|
That all came to an end soon after this picture was released with Pearl Harbor. Rossen’s adaptation at first struck me as somewhat vignettish, as though he were parsing Jack London’s prose into a sequence of layouts and reveals. Lineally if you will. Curtiz in 1941 was in full mastery of the studio machinery, and he seems to have taken complete visual control of these sequential vignettes for each scene of the act, along with the fantastic score from Korngold (his best I now believe) with its sophisticated use of leitmotifs to cue characters and incident. (my favorite leitmotif, the harmonica arpeggio for "freedom.")
Thus Curtiz tends to begin each of the screenplay’s and score’s “marks” as it were with wide two, three or group shots and pushes Sol Polito’s camera into a dolly to close-in and personalize the dialogue and exchange. Initially this looked to me like not much more than crepuscular stylistic ornamentation but in fact it’s a steady use of camera grammar in position, framing, lighting and changing POV that serves the material to a Tee.
The censorship of a lot of the fascist related dialogue at Warners’ directions to Rossen is regrettable but the images leave no doubt about Jack London’s textual ideas in visual form. The Wolf’s library with its impressive ubermencsh collection of everything important in early 20th century thought from Darwin to Nietszche is dovetailed into a superb reading by Alexander Knox of his big scene, standing in for the author with line readings of such grace, subtlety and near selflessness that compel us to listen to him while we watch Eddie, a master class in actor and reactor.
Apart from the sheer pleasure of seeing such a sequence realized so perfectly and with such force it’s a complete blast to watch two such totally different actors in style come together like this at the peak of their game.
The new Warner Archive Blu-ray comes to us from a just recently discovered 35mm nitrate original full length fine grain which was thought missing for the last 40 plus years. Warner has held off ever reissuing The Sea Wolf because the only sources for missing material from the existing 1947 86 minute recut were 16mm dupes. The image is literally pearlescent with absolutely glowing whites, blacks and contrast, and with a slightly dusky edge to gray that only nitrate could produce.