Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Oct 02, 2017 2:20 pm

I always think of Republic as one of the major minors, with almost a thousand movies produced over thirty years and more than a thousand over a twenty. Despite its Poverty Row origins (like Columbia!), Herbert Yates built up quite a prosperous little studio where they invented modern fight choreography, had a great miniatures department and won a Best Picture Oscar.

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 11:14 pm


THE SEA WOLF (1941) 100m **** (Blu-ray released October 10, 2017)

How often do you see a movie from the classic Hollywood era that strikes you as a genuine classic, to be put up there in the company of The Adventures of Robin Hood or Casablanca or Yankee Doodle Dandy? If you're like me, you've seen nearly everything important from the sound era by now, the only surprises come from around the edges, the silent era (the 1924 Lord Jim), other countries (Poil de Carotte), early talkie indies (The Mad Parade) and so on.

But I had never seen The Sea Wolf— from that period when Michael Curtiz and the Warner Bros. studio could do no wrong. His films before it were Robin Hood, Four Daughters, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Sea Hawk, Santa Fe Trail. His films after it were—well, Captain of the Clouds isn't great, but Casablanca and Yankee Doodle followed.

But Jack London's novel is about... Nietzsche. A man who rules in the absence of morality and God on the sea. Something like that, anyway. Not the kind of thing they could pull off convincingly at Warner Bros. that early. At some point someone's got to come give a pious speech while the choir sings. (Is Otto Kruger in the cast? That'd be right up his alley.) Reassuring the audience that nobody could really believe that stuff. (No Kruger, but Barry Fitzgerald's in it. That must be his job.)

In fact, though, it's a powerful and extremely well-written film (credit to Robert Rossen, much later to direct The Hustler) that plays like a decade or more later, like the hardbitten tales made after the war, after all that we'd seen and been through that scoured away the old sentimentality. Three main characters find themselves by fate on a damned ship— John Garfield, a rebellious seaman; Alexander Knox, the London stand-in, a writer; and Ida Lupino as— well, enough references to Shanghai that her name might as well be Lil and her profession can be guessed. They all fall under the control of Wolf Larsen, the brutal captain of the ship. As someone said of Dinsdale Piranha, "'E used irony, and sarcasm," and that's what's unbearable about Larsen, a Captain Bligh is a mere martinet, but Larsen knows how to psychologically twist and destroy his crew as needed, to maintain his perch atop the pyramid.

Robinson knows this is about the best shot out of playing gangsters or G-Men who go after gangsters he's going to get at this time, and even if his physical domination is not entirely convincing, his intelligence is, and he gives a powerfully sour and sadistic performance. I'd have happily had more Garfield and less Knox, but Garfield, as the natural man who won't bow down, seems a worthy philosophical opponent to the tyrant, while Lupino is convincing as a woman at the end of her rope, convinced of her damnation, who never gets a scene where she shows that she's just a swell gal next door.

Sol Polito, whose credits are a history of the Warners studio in themselves, gives it a shadowy look— not noir, not overly artistic, but bleak and grimy. Korngold did the score, but doesn't have any place to write a big memorable theme, keeping it to moody atmospheric notes. The cast is full of memorable supporting roles— Gene Lockhart as a drunken doctor, Barry Fitzgerald as an informing weasel, Francis McDonald, Stanley Ridges, and so on.

For a late 40s reissue with The Sea Hawk, the negative was trimmed from 100 to 87 minutes, and the only surviving complete print was a 16mm belonging to John Garfield. However, Warners searched and searched and found the full 100 minutes on 35mm, and the result is nearly flawless, black and white cinematography of unusual richness, faces modeled in shadow... everything you could ask. I see prices around $17.99 online; it seems a modest price to have a brand new classic from the golden age of Hollywood's best studio. The only extras are a trailer (which is especially dorky) and a Screen Director's Playhouse radio adaptation from 1950.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier

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