The Fabulous Forties #28: Jack London (dir by Alfred Santell)


Jack-London-1943

The 28th Film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1943 biopic about the writer, Jack London.  Not surprisingly, the title of the film was Jack London.

Now, I should start this review off by mentioning that I know very little about Jack London.  I don’t think that I have ever read any of his short stories or his novels.  I know that he wrote a novel called White Fang but that’s largely because there’s been so many different film versions of the book.  (Long before directing Zombi 2, even Lucio Fulci made a version of White Fang.)  Here’s what I do know about Jack London:

  1. He was a prominent writer at the turn of the century.
  2. He was reportedly an alcoholic.
  3. He was a Socialist who even ran for mayor of Oakland, California on the party’s ticket.
  4. He was an atheist.
  5. In 1916, depending on the source, he either committed suicide, died of alcohol poisoning, or simply passed away as the result of 40 years of hard living.

Of those 5 facts, 4 are totally ignored in Jack London.  The film does acknowledge that Jack London eventually became a prominent writer, even going so far as to open with stock footage of a U.S. warship being named after him.

As for his alcoholism, we never see London drunk.  Indeed, the film’s version of Jack London is so earnest that it’s hard to believe he’s ever had a drink in his life.

As for his Socialism, we are shown that London grew up in a poor family.  When, after serving at sea, he takes a writing class, he argues with a professor over London’s desire to write about the poor.  However, we never hear London express any specific ideology.  We certainly don’t see him running for mayor of Oakland.

As for his atheism — yeah right.  This film was made in 1943!  There’s no way that Jack London was going to be portrayed as talking about why he didn’t believe in God.

As for his death — well, Jack London ends with the writer very much alive.  There’s not even a title card informing us that London eventually died.

Instead, Jack London is much more concerned with Jack (played by Michael O’Shea) dealing with the Japanese.  Oh sure, we get some scenes of Jack London watching a shootout and breaking up a bar fight in Alaska.  And Susan Hayward shows up as Jack London’s always supportive wife.  (For that matter, Louise Beavers also shows up as Jack London’s always supportive house keeper.)

But, in the end, the majority of the film features Jack London as a war correspondent covering the turn of the 20th century war between Russia and Japan.  When he’s captured by the Japanese, he observes the harsh way they treat prisoners and is shocked when he witnesses several prisoners being ruthlessly executed.  When he talks to a Japanese commandant, he’s outraged as the commandant explains how the Empire of Japan is planning to take over the world.  When Jack finally gets back to America, he’s less concerned with writing White Fang and more concerned with warning the American people to remain vigilant…

Jack London is basically wartime propaganda disguised as a biopic.  The entire point of the film seems to be that if Jack London was still alive, he would want the men in the audience to enlist and the women to buy war bonds.  None of it is subtle and, beyond its value as a time capsule of how Americans viewed the Japanese in 1943, none of it is particularly interesting as well.

In the end, Jack London plays out like one of those earnest but dull educational films that tend to show up on PBS when no one’s watching.

2 responses to “The Fabulous Forties #28: Jack London (dir by Alfred Santell)

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