Despite his precarious health, silent film idol Milton Sills insisted upon tackling one of the most challenging roles of his career in the 1930 talkie The Sea Wolf. Based on the novel by Jack London, the film stars Sills as the psychotic Wolf Larsen, captain of the bad ship Ghost. In the original novel, Larsen rules his tiny vessel like a banana-republic despot, adhering to Satan's credo "Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven," as set down in Milton's Paradise Lost. Evidently worried that so villainous a portrayal would hurt Sills' image, the producers split the Larsen role in two: Wolf Larsen is still a fanatic, but far less dangerous than his co-skipper brother Death Larsen (Mitchell Lewis). Another deviation from the novel is the inclusion of a heroine (Jane Keith), a plot device later repeated in the 1940 Edward G. Robinson remake. Still, the 1930 film utilizes London's original ending, with Wolf Larson hiding the fact that he's blind for fear that his scurvy crew will stage a bloody mutiny. Though no one knew it at the time, The Sea Wolf would stand as Milton Sills's valedictory film: the actor died of heart failure on September 15, 1930.
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