Today is the national release date for the latest adaptation of the ultimate love poem to dogs, Jack London’s 1903 The Call of the Wild. I first read this ripping and brutal yarn in Junior High School, and rediscovered my love for Jack London a few years back while appearing in The Iron Heel . I’m slowly picking my way through his lesser known published works at the moment. At any rate the occasion seems appropriate for a quick glimpse back at the prior versions of this frozen canine epic. Now, mush! Mush!
The book was only 20 years old when Hal Roach of all people produced the original silent adaptation, starring Jack Mulhall, Walter Long, and Frank Butler. Surprsingly, copies of this eclipsed classic survive. MOMA has one.
I call the silent version eclipsed of course because the 1935 Zanuck version with Clark Gable became an instant classic, and remains the best known, I believe, despite the many others that have come afterwards. Directed by William Wellman, it also starred Loretta Young, Jack Oakie, Reginald Owen, and Sidney Toler. It was the final movie released by Twentieth Century before it merged with Fox.
Charlton Heston starred in this international production.
The 1992 tv movie version starred Ricky Schroder, then best known for the sitcom Silver Spoons.
More than one critic has called this version the best one, and the one that is most faithful to the book. It stars Rutger Hauer, and is narrated by Richard Dreyfus.
This 13 episode series ran on the Discovery Channel, and starred Canadian actor Nick Mancuso.
The new version launches in theatres today. While Harrison Ford is wonderful casting as the man in the story, the word on the street that the choice to make Buck a motion-capture animated cartoon dog is exceedingly weird Even still photos from the film are off-putting. I have no idea why studios insist on doing this with everything. Not once yet have I enjoyed a visit to Uncanny Valley. But in the interest of fairness, I will wait and see.