The Story of Jack London  (1943)





Director:  Alfred Santell.

Starring:  Michael O'Shea (Jack London), Susan Hayward (Charmian Kittredge), Osa Massen (Freda Maloof), Harry Davenport (Prof. Hilliard), Frank Craven (Old Tom), Virginia Mayo (Mamie), Ralph Morgan (George Brett), Jonathan Hale (Kerwin Maxwell), Louise Beavers (Mammy Jenny), Leonard Strong (Captain Tanaka), Regis Toomey (Scratch Nelson), Albert Van Antwerp (French Frank), Paul Hurst ('Lucky Luke' Lannigan), Lumsden Hare (English Correspondent), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mike, Saloonkeeper).

Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and the stories that rose from it


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Oakland, California, 1890.  There is a work accident at Jack London's workplace.  Jack is very unhappy with his work.  He complains about the meager wages of ten cents an hour.  He tells Mammy Jenny that he wants to get a boat for oyster hauling.  He saves up his money and buys a boat.  A tough, but good-looking woman named Mamie stows aboard Jack's boat on the vessel's and Jack's maiden voyage.  He is very surprised to see her, but with her good looks he is not upset.  She tells him about how much money they can make in oyster pirating. 

Pirating may pay well, but it is illegal and it is dangerous.  The police wait at the dock for the arrival of several oyster pirating vessels.  A gun fight breaks out.  A number of bad guys are killed or wounded.  London decides that pirating is just not worth the risk. 

London learns from a guy he knows, Tom, that he is sailing out to the Bering Sea to hunt seals for seven months.  Jack signs on as an able-bodied seaman and very soon gets himself knocked out by the local bully.  Jacks stands out from the rest of the seamen as he is always reading and he receives a lot of teasing and taunting about it.  The bully puts a dead seal in London's bunk and then waits for the laughs to come.  But he is stumped when London just lays back in his bunk reading a book.  The bully then discovers that the seal is now actually in his bed, switched by London.  He can dish it out, but he can't take it and he chases Jack around the decks until he catches him and starts to beat him.  But the bully gets another surprise when Jack starts beating him in a fist fight.  In the end it is the bully that has to call "uncle". 

Home from the sea, Jack attends writing classes at the University of California.   The professor likes Jack's writings, but he says he concerns himself too much with the dark side of life: poverty, brutality, cruelty.  He adds that a couple of the incidents could never happen in real life.  Jack proceeds to tell the learned man that he actually saw the incidents happen when he was in China.  London is a bit ticked off by the incident and suddenly makes up his mind that the classroom is not for him.  He wants more of real life.

Dawson City, Yukon, gold strike days.  London is hanging out in a saloon doing some writing.   The singer there, Freda Maloof, has taken a liking to him.  But Jack has that wanderlust that makes him want to keep moving.  An announcement comes in that gold has been discovered 80 miles from Dawson City and he sets out for the place.  He finds himself stranded in his cabin by a great deal of snow and talking to his German shepherd dog about the ideas he is working on. 

Back in the lower 48, Jack receives payment from his publisher for his novel Call of the Wild.  In the street he meets Charmian Kittredge who works at the publishing firm.  She almost seems to run from Jack, so he follows her back to the firm.  He asks her why she ran away and she says it is nothing personal.  But when she steps out, she reads a report written by her about his work.  It is filled with praise and the telling remark that she did not want to meet the author because she would fall head over heels for him.  When she returns, Jack thanks her for the report and asks her to go horseback riding with him.

The couple is celebrating the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century with a party at Jack's place.  Almost prophetically, Jack says about the new century that greed and selfishness will rule as well as tyrants. 

Mr. Maxwell of the Globe newspaper talks to Jack about heading over to South Africa to cover the Boer War between the British and the Boers (old Dutch settler families).   Jack jumps at the chance, but by the time he gets over to South Africa, the war ends.  He returns home to Charmian. 

The Russo-Japanese War breaks out.  Jacks jumps at the chance to cover the story.  The Japanese score a major victory at Port Arthur, but Jack and the rest of the foreign correspondents are not allowed any where near the front.  They are all stranded more or less in Japan.  But London says he's going to Korea to get near the action.  He dresses like a coolie and begins working with the other coolies down at the docks.  He jumps in a sampan with the rest of the coolies and they head to Korea.

London starts taking pictures of the Japanese soldiers and their Russian prisoner-of-war captives.  Captain Tanaka stops him to inquire about what he is doing.  He has actually read some of London's books and likes them very much.  He tells the curious London that he learned his English at Oxford.  Tanaka takes London over to his quarters and tells him all about Japan's future plans to develop their own sphere of influence in Asia.  He says that the Japanese will cross the Yalu River into Korea then head into Manchuria; then Mongolia; and then all of China.  Of course, he adds, they will have to defeat England and the USA before they can take all of China.  Asked why he is telling an American about future Japanese plans, Tanaka says he is not worried because no one will ever believe London even if he publishes an article on what he has been told. 

London scoops all the foreign correspondents with his stories.  But then he makes a mistake.  Looking intently at one of the artillery pieces used by the Japanese, he see the weapon is made by the Krupp factory, Germany.  When he starts to take a picture of the Krupp name, the Japanese take him into custody.  He is accused of being an spy for the Russians and is thrown into a prisoner-of-war camp.  The Japanese give the Russian prisoners very little water and so one day they use a home-made battering ram to bust through the main wall of their cell.  They all make a dive for the water pump and pool area.  The Japanese guards set up a machine gun by the gate and nearly kill all the Russians trying to get a drink  --  shades of many more acts of cruelty and atrocity that will be committed by the Japanese in the coming decades.

The Japanese ambassador goes in to see President Theodore Roosevelt who demands that the Japanese release Jack London.  The Japanese let London go.  General Fuji says that the Japanese are really sorry.  London is not impressed by the apology. 

Back home, London starts writing a series of anti-Japanese articles, exposing their plans for aggression.  London sees this as part of his patriotic duty to the United States.  He stresses Japanese barbarism in many of the articles.  But his publisher will not publish the articles.  He says that Japan and the United States are friends and the articles would insult the Japanese.  London objects that Port Arthur will happen to the United States one day.  But, as he says, "we are still dreaming".      


Good movie.  My wife and I enjoyed it, but it was awkward that the movie stopped so suddenly at the end of the Russo-Japanese War.  So many questions still remained unanswered about the famous writer and his family.  London really got around and had a great many adventures., which are enjoyable to watch  He is pictured as a real scrapper, always willing to duke it out with someone he disagrees with even if it gets him in trouble.  The movie was just too brief to do justice to this very interesting man.  His writings were just barely touched on.  The picture quality is not the greatest either.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  



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