‘Never Cry Wolf’ is a perfect, beautifully told story about one man’s journey to find himself

Charles Martin Smith in 'Never Cry Wolf'

Our Score:

When I was a kid, Never Cry Wolf was the first film I went to see alone. It was 1983, and I was 8 years old. I went to see the movie 13 times, 12 of which alone.

I don’t know what struck me about the film, but I was completely taken by it. Fascinated. I loved the story, and continually scratched together the five to six bucks I needed to see the movie, and buy a soda and popcorn.

In the past year, I’ve been dedicating myself to getting it on DVD. I saw it was available on Amazon, but I’m really not a believer in buying things online. I mean, $12 some bucks for the DVD, then another $10 just to pay for shipping? Give me a break. Nah, I wanted to get it in Sam Goody or Best Buy. Just let me buy it at a store.

But I could never find that darn thing.

Wolf in the night
Wolf in the night

So, I was down in Pennsylvania recently visiting family, when we took a trip to the mall. There happened to be a video store by the little eatery we stopped in, so I finished my lunch and poked my head into the store. I remembered that I’d been looking for Never Cry Wolf, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Let’s see if perhaps I could find it.

And, shockingly, I did. And I bought it right away.

Never Cry Wolf is based on the true story of a scientist (Charles Martin Smith) who journeys to the Artic to determine if the wolves in the region are causing the demise of the caribou. He makes this journey alone, and soon encounters a family of wolves in the wilderness. There he studies them to understand how they live and what they eat.

He also encounters an old Inuit spiritual man, and a young Inuit who makes a living selling wolf hides.

It’s a powerful, sometimes funny tale. Much of the humor comes through the main character’s experiences in trying to survive in the wilderness, often poking fun as the fact that his “funded” expedition was so poorly mishandled. But, none of the humor would have worked without the beautiful performance by Charles Martin Smith.

Zachary Ittimangnaq in 'Never Cry Wolf'
Zachary Ittimangnaq in ‘Never Cry Wolf’

Smith was all over the place in the late 70s and 80s, appearing in films such as American GraffitiThe Untouchables and Starman. He’s shifted into being a director now, but he was a great, natural actor who always played quirky but likable characters.

Here he play Taylor, a man in search of himself in the middle of nowhere, struggling to find his place in the world. I identified with the character even as a young boy. I suppose that was attracted me to the film.

Of course the film is also about nature and man’s relationship to it. While Taylor came to study the wolves because civilization believed them to be a threat, what he discovers is that the true threat is civilization.

Filled with beautiful vistas, the visions of the Artic are just as important to this story as the main character. While the majority of the story features one man, the environment is equally important. It’s not man vs. nature, but man with nature. As such, the cold and the mountains are all characters in this drama.

The wolves, too, play an important role. The film is of course a statement for people to love and respect nature and its animals. In this case, the film strives to reverse the general perception that wolves are mostly violent and dangerous.

Brian Dennehy in 'Never Cry Wolf'
Brian Dennehy in ‘Never Cry Wolf’

The only bit of disappointment here is with the DVD itself. The DVD features nothing — and I mean NOTHING — but the film. And while the Never Cry Wolf does look rather good — just a few bits of dust and age visible in a few scenes — I would have liked to have seen something more to this DVD. There is another version with production notes, but nothing else.

Perhaps it’s simply become a forgotten film from the early 80s that no one’s bothered to put together a special edition. I think it would be a worthy endeavor, perhaps featuring a documentary on the real person whose experiences the film was based upon, Farley Mowat.

So, consider this review a plea to Anchor Bay Entertainment to put together a special edition of Never Cry Wolf that is worthy of this quiet classic.

Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Never Cry Wolf poster Rating: 7.6/10 (6,071 votes)
Director: Carroll Ballard
Writer: Farley Mowat (based on the book by), Curtis Hanson (screenplay), Sam Hamm (screenplay), Richard Kletter (screenplay), Charles Martin Smith (narration written by), Eugene Corr (narration written by), Christina Luescher (narration written by)
Stars: Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, Zachary Ittimangnaq, Samson Jorah
Runtime: 105 min
Rated: PG
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Released: 27 Jan 1984
Plot: A government researcher, sent to research the "menace" of wolves in the north, learns about the true beneficial and positive nature of the species.

REVIEW ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 25, 2004

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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