Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Poop Deck: "The Legend of Sea Wolf" (1978)

The Rifleman, a Bond girl, and a boatload of Italians set out to sea and ruin Jack London's adventure novel.

Gentleman Humphrey (Giuseppe Pambieri, acting under the marquee-friendly 'Joseph Palmer') has been knocked unconscious while trying to stop a fight onshore. He wakes up on a seal-hunting ship commanded by the very menacing Wolf Larsen (Chuck Connors). Humphrey has been "volunteered" to work on the ship, and finds himself in the galley as the cook's underling. Larsen berates and abuses his men, never showing any kindness except to his possibly retarded gardener Dingbat (who gets his own wacky theme music).

The crew is on edge, watching their water rations being used on the captain's vegetable patch, and finally throw Larsen and his first mate overboard. Larsen climbs back aboard, more pissed than ever, and in the film's only memorable scene, Larsen takes on the entire crew in a fight and beats them. He names Humphrey his new first mate, and Humphrey agrees to spy on the captain, hoping to be able to find land and escape. After a few storms and lots of fist throwing, castaway Maude (Barbara Bach) finally pops up with the sexy, and Humphrey finds a new reason to escape the ship.

This is one of those public domain discs, which is understandable since the copyright holders probably did not want to be connected to this. Connors is the only good thing about the film. He has a larger-than-life physical presence, seeming to tower over the cowering crew. Pambieri mostly argues with Connors and shows concern, we never get to know our hero. Maude is just "the girl," not popping up until almost an hour into the film, and her instantaneous love with Humphrey is comical. Bach is easy on the eyes, but her character is poorly written and dull.

The special effects, including too many storm scenes, are alright simply because the picture quality is so poor that paper plates on fishing line would look convincing. Director Vari (using the pseudonym 'Joseph Green') does what he can with a film that takes place in such a small space. The majority of the cast is Italian, which is fine, but the dubbing of their voices is unintentionally funny. The first hour of the film collapses under its repetitive weight, and after the introduction of Maude, it limps to its sudden conclusion after teasing the viewer with more appropriate false endings.

The story has been filmed before as "The Sea Wolf" with Edward G. Robinson, and London's story is ripe for a big budget action remake. This "The Legend of Sea Wolf" is far from legendary. (*) out of five stars.