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|Edward G. Robinson||'Wolf' Larsen|
|Ida Lupino||Ruth Webster|
|John Garfield||George Leach|
|Alexander Knox||Humphrey Van Weyden|
|Gene Lockhart||Dr. Prescott|
|David Bruce||Young Sailor|
|Howard Da Silva||Harrison|
Refined fiction writer Humphrey van Weyden (Knox) and escaped convict Ruth Webster (Lupino) are passengers on a ship that collides with another vessel and sinks. They are rescued by the Ghost, a seal-hunting ship. At the helm is the brutal Captain Wolf Larsen (Robinson), a compassionless individual who delights in dominating and abusing his crew.Larsen refuses to return to port early and forces van Weyden to work as the new cabin boy, replacing the rebellious George Leach (Garfield). When Prescott (Lockhart), the drunken ship's doctor, determines that the unconscious Webster needs a transfusion to survive, Larsen "volunteers" Leach, even though there is no way to test if his blood is compatible. Fortunately, it is, and she recovers. As time goes by, she comes to depend on Leach for protection and, despite himself, Leach falls in love with her.Most of the film is centered on Larsen’s peculiar character. He is very well read, yet cannot see anything useful in his education. When Prescott complains about the way he is treated, Larsen orders the crew to respect his dignity, only to conclude by kicking the man down some stairs for his and the crew's amusement. Prescott climbs the mast and reveals that Larsen's own brother, another sea captain, is hunting him, having vowed to kill him; Prescott then throws himself to his death.Leach and several other crewmen ambush Larsen and throw him and his first mate overboard. However, Larsen manages to grab a trailing rope, climb back aboard, and put down the mutiny. Larsen cannot afford to lose any men, so instead of punishing them, he betrays his informant, the ship’s cook (Fitzgerald), to them. They drop him in the water, holding onto a rope for dear life. Before they can pull him back in though, a shark bites off his leg.Eventually, Leach, Webster, van Weyden, and another crewman escape on a dory. However, they discover that the wily Larsen had replaced their water supply with vinegar. The fourth man later sacrifices himself by going overboard to help conserve the little water they have.Larsen is subject to intense headaches that leave him temporarily blind, but has managed to hide his condition from the crew. He knows that he will eventually lose his sight permanently. When Larsen's brother catches up with him, a cannon shot holes the Ghost and it starts to sink. The ship escapes into a fog bank, but Larsen goes blind again and his debility is revealed to all. The crew seizes the opportunity to take to the boats.Then, van Weyden, Leach, and Webster sight the Ghost and, having no other choice, reboard her. The ship appears to be deserted so Leach goes below for provisions. He is surprised by Larsen and locked into a compartment. Larsen is determined to go down with the Ghost and take as many others with him as he can. Van Weyden tries to get the key from Larsen and is fatally shot, but manages to hide the fact from the now nearly blind captain. He tricks Larsen into giving Webster the key by promising to stay with Larsen to the bitter end. This act of seeming self-sacrifice disturbs Larsen, causing him to question his whole philosophy, until he realizes that van Weyden is dying. Vindicated in his own mind, Wolf Larsen awaits his demise.