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Never Cry Wolf (film)

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Never Cry Wolf
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCarroll Ballard
Screenplay byCurtis Hanson
Sam Hamm
Richard Kletter
Based onNever Cry Wolf
by Farley Mowat
Produced byLewis Allen
Jack Couffer
Joseph Strick
CinematographyHiro Narita
Edited byMichael Chandler
Peter Parasheles
Music byMark Isham
Walt Disney Pictures
Amarok Productions Ltd.
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • October 7, 1983 (1983-10-07) (limited)
  • January 27, 1984 (1984-01-27) (release)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11 million
Box office$27.6 million

Never Cry Wolf is a 1983 American drama film directed by Carroll Ballard. The film is an adaptation of Farley Mowat's 1963 "subjective non-fiction" book of the same name.[1] The film stars Charles Martin Smith as a government biologist sent into the wilderness to study the caribou population, whose decline is believed to be caused by wolves, even though no one has seen a wolf kill a caribou. The film also features Brian Dennehy and Zachary Ittimangnaq. It was the first Disney film to be released by the studio under the renamed Walt Disney Pictures label. The film was released on October 7, 1983, for a limited distribution, and in the regular theaters on January 27, 1984.


Tyler, a young and naïve Canadian biologist, is assigned by the government to travel to the isolated Canadian Arctic wilderness and study why the area's caribou population is declining. He has instructions to kill a wolf and examine its stomach contents for caribou tissue. Tyler hires pilot Rosie Little to take him to the Arctic in his bush plane. After landing at the destination, Rosie leaves Tyler in the middle of a frozen lake. A passing Inuk named Ootek shelters him as he orients himself to his new surroundings.

Alone, Tyler divides his days between research and survival. He soon encounters two wolves that he names George and Angeline, who have pups, and seem as curious of him as he is of them. He and the wolves begin social exchanges, including the marking of territory, producing trust and respect between them. Noticing that they have not eaten any caribou and only mice, he begins a side experiment of eating only mice for protein sustenance.

Another Inuk named Mike encounters Tyler. He tells Tyler that he is self-conscious about missing most of his teeth. Tyler discovers that Mike is a wolf hunter, killing for pelts to sell to make a living. Tyler demonstrates a trick he has learned: by playing certain notes on his bassoon, he can imitate a wolf howl, calling other wolves in.

Autumn nears, and Tyler hears that the caribou are migrating south. Ootek takes him on a three-day hike to where the caribou will be, and Tyler observes the wolves make several unsuccessful attacks. He helps drive caribou towards the pack, which takes one down. Tyler takes a bone and samples the marrow, discovering the dead caribou to be diseased. This confirms that the wolves kill only the weaker caribou.

One day Tyler encounters Rosie and two investors, who have bought the lakefront and mountain slope to develop a hotel. Rosie tells him that he is behaving irrationally and offers to fly him out. Tyler refuses, but Rosie promises to visit him in a few days at the camp in case he changes his mind.

Tyler returns to the base to find things very still. He ventures into the wolves' territory to find the pups cowering in fear and the two adults gone. Rosie's aircraft approaches outside. Believing that Rosie killed George and Angeline, Tyler shouts at the cubs to leave and fires his rifle to scare them away.

Returning to his camp, Tyler finds Mike in the hut. When Tyler asks about the wolves, Mike admonishes him to focus on his own survival and hints that he knows about Rosie's plans. He flashes new dentures and leaves.

Some time later, as the first snow begins to fall, Tyler plays the wolf call on his bassoon, bringing in other wolves from George and Angeline's pack. He reflects on his time in the wilderness and how he may have helped bring the modern world to this place. Ootek returns, and he and Tyler break camp and trek across the fall tundra to the south, enjoying each other's company.


  • Charles Martin Smith as Tyler, a biologist without any survival skills, yet bold enough to study wolves in their environment.
  • Brian Dennehy as Rosie Little, a carefree bush pilot who exploits the region for money.
  • Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, an Inuk who helps Tyler survive the wilderness.
  • Samson Jorah as Mike, Ootek's adoptive son, caught between his Inuit ways and the modern world.
  • Martha Ittimangnaq as Woman, Ootek's wife.
  • Hugh Webster as Drunk
  • Tom Dahlgren as Hunter #1
  • Walker Stuart as Hunter #2


Never Cry Wolf blends the documentary film style with the narrative elements of drama, resulting in a type of docudrama. It was originally written for the screen by Sam Hamm but the screenplay was altered over time and Hamm ended up sharing credit with Curtis Hanson and Richard Kletter.[2][N 1]

The actor Charles Martin Smith, who had previously worked with Disney on films such as No Deposit, No Return and Herbie Goes Bananas, devoted almost three years to Never Cry Wolf. Smith wrote, "I was much more closely involved in that picture than I had been in any other film. Not only acting, but writing and the whole creative process." He also found the process difficult. "During much of the two-year shooting schedule in Canada's Yukon and in Nome, Alaska, I was the only actor present. It was the loneliest film I've ever worked on," Smith said.[3]

Filming locations [edit]

The film locations for Never Cry Wolf included Nome, Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and Atlin, British Columbia, Canada.[4]


Critical response [edit]

When Never Cry Wolf was released, a review in the Los Angeles Times called the film "... subtle, complex and hypnotic ... triumphant filmmaking!"[5]

Ronald Holloway, film critic of Variety magazine, gave the film a mostly admiring review, and wrote, "For the masses out there who love nature films, and even those who don't, Carroll Ballard's more than fits the commercial bill and should score well too with critical suds<sic> on several counts."[6]

Some critics found the premise of Never Cry Wolf a bit hard to believe. Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, wrote, "I find it difficult to accept the fact that the biologist, just after an airplane has left him in the middle of an icy wilderness, in a snowstorm, would promptly get out his typewriter and, wearing woolen gloves, attempt to type up his initial reactions.[7] He called the film was "a perfectly decent if unexceptional screen adaptation of Farley Mowat's best-selling book about the author's life among Arctic wolves."

In his retrospective review of the film, Brendon Hanley of Allmovie praised Never Cry Wolf and Smith's performance, writing, "Wolf's protagonist [is] wonderfully played by the reliable character actor Charles Martin Smith... The result is a quirky, deceptively simple meditation on life."[8] The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 100% based on reviews from eighteen critics, with an average rating of 7.7 out of 10.[9]




Box office [edit]

The film opened in limited release October 7, 1983 and went into wide circulation January 20, 1984.

The film was in theatres for 192 days (27 weeks) and the total US gross sales were $27,668,764. In its widest release, the film appeared in 540 theatres.[12]

Comparisons to book[edit]

There are several differences in the film when compared to Mowat's book. In the book, Ootek and Mike's roles are reversed, Mike is actually Ootek's older brother (Ootek is a teenager) and Ootek, although speaking mostly in Inuktitut, communicates openly with Mowat while Mike is more reserved.

The film adds a more spiritual element to the story while the book was a straightforward story. The film also isolates the characters while in the book, Mowat meets several people from different areas of the Arctic. Also in the book, the wolves are not killed and neither did the bush pilot bring in investors to build a resort.[13]


  1. ^ Never Cry Wolf is the first Walt Disney Pictures film to show naked adult buttocks (of actor Charles Martin Smith).[2]


  1. ^ Rinehart, Dianne (May 7, 2014). "Farley Mowat, acclaimed Canadian author, dead at 92". Toronto Star.
  2. ^ a b "Sam Hamm." NNDB/Soylent Communications. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  3. ^ "Charles Martin Smith interview." Official John Carpenter web site, April 22, 2001.
  4. ^ "Filming locations: Never Cry Wolf (1983)." IMDb. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  5. ^ "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Los Angeles Times, Calendar Section, October 7, 1983.
  6. ^ Holloway, Ronald. "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Variety, September 1, 1983.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent. Review: Never Cry Wolf."The New York Times, October 14, 1983.
  8. ^ Hanley, Brendon. "Review: Never Cry Wolf." Allmovie. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  9. ^ "Never Cry Wolf ." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  10. ^ "BSFC past winners." Boston Society of Film Critics. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  11. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards (1984): Nominees and Winners." oscars.org. Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  12. ^ "Never Cry Wolf (1983); Arctic tale." The Numbers (Nash Information Services). Retrieved: November 4, 2014.
  13. ^ Mowat 2001, p. 13.


  • Mowat, Farley. Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001. ISBN 978-0-31688-179-1.
  • Shedd, Warner. Owls Aren't Wise and Bats Aren't Blind: A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife. New York: Broadway Books, 2001, first edition 2000. ISBN 978-0-60980-797-2.

External links[edit]