The Sea Wolf. 1930. USA. Directed by Alfred Santell. With Milton Sills, Jane Keithley, Raymond Hackett. 89 min.
While Warner Bros. was struggling to film static, stage-bound musicals with their sound-on-disc Vitaphone system, Fox’s far superior sound-on-film Movietone system allowed filmmakers to explore difficult locations with an amazing freedom of camera movement, as seen in films like In Old Arizona and The Big Trail. This 1930 production is both an ambitious adaptation of the Jack London novel by director Alfred Santell (That Brennan Girl) and a technical tour-de-force, with extensive dialogue sequences recorded in the open air aboard a ship at sea. Starring as Wolf Larsen is Milton Sills, a silent-era star who began his career as a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago—which may be why his Nietzsche-laden dialogue sounds so authoritative. Sadly, this was Sills’s last film; he died a week before its release. New 4K restoration from nitrate elements held by MoMA, funded by Twentieth Century Fox