FunAstrology“Der Seewolf”: ZDFneo mutilates the Advent classic

“Der Seewolf”: ZDFneo mutilates the Advent classic

For the 50th anniversary, ZDFneo showed a roughly cut version of the legendary Advent four-part series.

Frankfurt – “Why haven’t you achieved anything great in this world?”, The feeble esthete Humphrey van Weyden (Edward Meeks) asks his amoral adversary Wolf Larsen (Raimund Harmstorf) in a fit of courage, “With your unusual strength you could have achieved anything can. Without a conscience – you have none – without moral inhibitions you could have subjugated the whole world and ruled it. Instead, you are – and you are at the height of your life – only the captain of a schooner. ”Macho Harmstorf lounges on his cabin bed and lights a cigarillo. His eyes sparkle evil: “Hump, my mistake was that I ever opened a book …”

Those were the days when the ZDF did not copy the trivial “event movies” of the private broadcasters, but instead relied on tense world literature films with philosophical explosives! In December 1971, the four-part film “The Sea Wolf” based on Jack London’s novel (1904) flickered across the screen with fantastic ratings in an epic length of almost six hours. The street sweeper is still popular today, as evidenced by the constant DVD sales and discussions in fan forums.

There are several reasons for this cult: The screenwriter and producer Walter Ulbrich, who died in 1991, pioneer of the legendary Advent four-parter, who created the big fabrics (including “Treasure Island”, “The Leather Stocking Stories”, “Lure of Gold” and also with Harmstorf in the title role “Michail Strogoff” based on Jules Verne’s “Der Kurier des Zaren”) realized for the people of Mainz, interwoven in a congenial way the “Sea Wolf” template with other stories from Jack London such as “Joe among the Pirates” (1902), “Adventurer of the Rail Line” (1907), “The Love of Life” (also 1907), “A Son of the Sun” (1912) and “King Alcohol” (1913).

50-year anniversary “The Sea Wolf”: Exotic locations

Ulbrich, whose Tele München had a high-performance, but inexpensive co-production partner in Studio Bucharest, found uniquely exotic locations in the Swedish tundra and in Romania. He let old master Wolfgang Staudte direct (“The murderers are among us”, “The subject”, “Herrenpartie”). This in turn left the action scenes and the fourth episode “The Search for the Lost Island” to the Romanian Sergiu Nicolaescu. The brutal and at the same time dreamy soundtrack came from the pen of the unforgettable composer Hans Posegga (“Die Sendung mit der Maus”, “Call of the Gold”).

In contrast to the past, Ulbrich relies on fresh faces: The audience was most familiar with the now 87-year-old American Edward Meeks from the French television series “Die Globetrotter” about the adventures of two reporters. The bearded title hero Raimund Harmstorf, born on October 7, 1939 in Hamburg, on the other hand, had played Valentin am Theater in “Faust II” and a clean-shaven killer in Wolfgang Becker’s three-part crime thriller “Babeck” (1968) under Gustaf Gründgens, but one He has not yet been entrusted with a leading role in television or film. His physical presence – height 189 meters, chest circumference 107, waist 78 and biceps 40 centimeters – finally predestined him for the part of the violent Captain Larsen, who acts according to Nietzsche and Darwin’s theories of superman and selection.

50-year anniversary of “The Sea Wolf”: Shortened version on ZDF

But the former decathlete and medical student was far more than a power man who crushed the necks of (prepared) bottles or (cooked) potatoes. “This role profile would have had to be fine-tuned, then he would have become a world star.”, Says Peter Kock, who at the age of 23 played the sailor Leach, who rebelled against Larsen, and is now professor at the Berlin University of the Arts in the “Performing Arts” and “Performing Arts” sections “Cabaret / Show” lectures. So far, so good – and legendary. For the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast, one had actually hoped that the ZDF or at least 3sat would broadcast all four parts over four or perhaps split over two days during the main program time, because as the Austrian film and theater star Klaus once said Maria Brandauer so apt? “You shouldn’t come down to the audience, but rather bring them up to you.”

But those times are probably over for good. On the 2nd Advent, the offshoot broadcaster ZDFneo presented mundane styling shows like “Wash, Cut, Live – My New Me” up and down, as a “Free TV premiere” after the “Pay TV premiere” “At Kabel Eins Classic on August 15th a new cut version shortened to two hours, in which Jack London, Raimund Harmstorf and above all Walter Ulbrich would have turned in their graves if they had seen it. At the beginning, when the title melody by Posegga sounds, the arranger, who is not mentioned in the shortened credits, did not even bother to exchange the plates at the beginning. It still says: “The sea wolf. A television film in four parts based on the novel of the same name and other short stories by Jack London. TV adaptation and script by Walter Ulbrich ”. The stunned viewer only sees one film!

„Der Seewolf“: Humphrey van Weyden (Edward Meeks) klettert einen Felsen hinauf. Unter ihm ist das Meer zu sehen. Humphrey blickt angestrengt.


The writer Humphrey van Weyden (Edward Meeks) flees from the brutal Captain Larsen, known as the sea wolf.

50-year anniversary “The Sea Wolf”: These actors played along

In addition, all flashbacks, including those where Hump (Franz Seidenschwan), who came from a wealthy family, and the poor dynamite fisherman Wolf Larsen alias Frisco Kid (Dieter Schidor), who was thirsty for education, first met in the slums of San Francisco as young people, removed with digital scissors. This ingenious device by Ulbrich, who interwoven the Jack London stories “Joe among the Pirates” and “The Adventure of the Railroad” with the novel “The Sea Wolf”, not only made the four-part romantic magic, but also the psychology and development the two main characters became easier to understand.

So the childhood memories are completely gone – Weyden and Larsen don’t know each other from before – but the “Captain of the Thousand Islands” passage from the last part has been preserved. “Luckily,” says journalist and Jack London expert Henning Franke, “because that was the most important, most coherent extension of the novel for me: that Weyden is no longer the same after the decisive experiences on the ‘Ghost’ as before, that he does not find his way back into his old life, but slips into a new existence – ‘the unsteady life of a South Seas vagabond had cast a spell over me’. Of course everything is shortened, here as in the main story. It’s a shame about every deleted scene that you remember. “

role Actress
Wolf Larsen Raimund Harmstorf
Humphrey van Weyden Edward Meeks
Maud Brewster Beatrice Cardon
Thomas Mugridge Emmerich Schäfer
George Leach Peter Kock
Wolf Larsen as a boy Dieter Schidor
Humphrey van Weyden as a boy Franz silk swan

50-year anniversary “The Sea Wolf”: life and film close together

Franke points out another mistake: The removal of the scene in which Weyden, just taken on board as a shipwrecked man, wakes up from his impotence and receives an introduction to the conditions on board from the greasy little cook (Emmerich Schäffer): “In the short version he steps on deck immediately and knows straight away: ‘That could only be one person – the captain, Wolf Larsen’, although this name has never been mentioned… ”Also Humphrey van Weyden’s fight“ Not gegen Elend ”with an emaciated wolf after it was him when he tried to escape together with Maud Brewster (Beatrice Cardon – in the novel, this character survives by the way) who drowned in the storm, washed up in an open boat on a lonely island, is missing.

The survival story “The Love of Life” was one of the best that Jack London wrote. One only sees how Larsen, who also capsized with the “Ghost”, met him again on the island and left him on a march through the tundra when Weyden was too weak to keep up with him. At least the South Seas episodes from the anthology “A Son of the Sun”, including the showdown on the wreck of the “Ghost” between Larsen, who is still dangerous but now blinded by a brain tumor, and increasingly self-confident van Weyden, have been preserved.

A sacrilege was already committed with the original four-parter: Walter Ulbrich had Raimund Harmstorf dubbed by Kurt E. Ludwig because his timbre would be “harder”. This hit the sensitive actor, who remained loyal to Jack London at the side of Hollywood star Charlton Heston in “Call of the Wild” (1972) and in Dagmar von Kurmin’s radio play masterpiece “Wolfsblut” (Poly, 1975), hard throughout his life. Life and film are often very close to one another: Since 1994, the supposed roughneck suffered from Parkinson’s and, due to the medication, from depression. On May 3, 1998, he committed suicide on his farm in Marktoberdorf in the Allgäu – as once “Sea Wolf” – creator Jack London, who was already tired of earthly existence at the age of 40 (there are, however, sources that kidney failure is responsible for the cause of death do).

The sea wolf

To see in the ZDF media library, video available until January 3rd, 2022

50-year anniversary “The Sea Wolf”: Reason for Harmstorf’s suicide

One of the reasons for Harmstorf’s suicide could have been reports in the Bild newspaper. The responsible public prosecutor’s office said: “There are findings to the effect that a co-trigger for the suicide can be seen in the media coverage.” The picture contradicted this, but was later officially reprimanded by the press council. That didn’t bring Harmstorf back to life either. But he gave himself immortality – with his “sea wolf”. Especially when you compare your interpretation with those of Noah Beery (1920), Edward G. Robinson (1941), Barry Sullivan (1958), Chuck Connors (1975), Liubomiras Lauciavicius (1991), Charles Bronson (1993), Stacy Keach ( 1997), Thomas Kretschmann (2008) and Sebastian Koch (2009), all of which cannot hold a candle to him.

In a new cut, it would have been attractive to integrate the bonus scenes from the two-part Romanian theatrical version (original title: “Lupul Mărilor”), which were missing in the ZDF version in 1971. There is a sequence in which Larsen reports on his plans to eventually build a house on a quiet island. When Larsen and van Weyden parted ways in the Land of Small Twigs, Hump draws Wolf’s attention to the fact that he already knew him by the name Frisco Kid, which leaves him completely cold.

There is also an alternative sequence in which sealer Oofty-Oofty (Omar Islau) is not killed by a shark, but shot by Larsen. And at the end, we go into more detail about the circumstances that contributed to the Ghost’s stranding. All of this is nil in the new cut. “They sit in the front row at ARD and ZDF,” they said in joint commercials in the early 1990s. At ZDFneo it will be the last bank in 2021 … (Marc Hairapetian)

Our author Marc Hairapetian wrote the chapter “In search of lost time” about the radio play adaptations of the four-part adventure on ZDF in the second edition of the illustrated book “Seewolf and Co.” (Oliver Kellner / Ulf Marek, Schwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2005, Euro 29.80).

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