Original version with subtitles
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 action. 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 fully rigged museum ship anchored off Catalina Island – something unthinkable for Vitaphone.
Starring as Wolf Larsen is Milton Sills, a silent-era star who began his career as a fellow in philosophy at the University of Chicago, until a visiting stage actor heard his lecture on Ibsen and urged him to try his luck in the theater (which may make Sills the only actor who played Wolf Larsen to have actually read Nietzsche).
Although he is largely forgotten today, Sills rose from Broadway to become a major figure in silent film, starring as staunchly masculine heroes in such films as Cecil B. DeMille’s Adam’s Rib (1923) and Frank Lloyd’s The Sea Hawk (1924). A thoughtful man, Sills was the author of the entry on film acting in the 1929 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica; his article includes a fascinating insight into silent performance that few historians have picked up on: “While the normal speed of the camera in filming a performance is 16 pictures a second, or 60ft. of film per minute, when the picture is projected in a theatre, it is the custom to run it at the rate of 24 pictures per second, or 90ft. per minute. This, together with the fact that the film does not record movement as adequately as the eye, makes it necessary for the actor to adopt a more deliberate tempo than that of the stage or of real life. He must learn to time his action in accordance with the requirements of the camera, making it neither too fast nor too slow – a process of education only to be acquired through experience in the studio”.
Sadly, this was Sills’s last film – a week before its release, he died of a heart attack while playing tennis at his Santa Monica home.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1904) di Jack London. Scen.: Ralph Block, S.N. Behrman. F.: Glen MacWilliams. M.: Paul Weatherwax. Scgf.: Joseph C. Wright. Mus.: R.H. Bassett. Int.: Milton Sills (‘Wolf’ Larsen), Jane Keith, (Lorna Marsh), Raymond Hackett (Allen Rand), Mitchell Harris (‘Death’ Larsen), Nat Pendleton (Smoke), John Rogers (Mugridge), Harold Kinney (Leach), Sam Allen (Neilson), Harry Tenbrook (Axel Johnson). Prod.: William Fox per Fox Film Corporation. DCP 4K. D.: 87’. B&W and tinted.
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