This classic story by Herman Melville revolves around Captain Ahab and his obsession with a huge whale, Moby Dick. The whale caused the loss of Ahab's leg years before, leaving Ahab to stomp the boards of his ship on a peg leg. Ahab is so crazed by his desire to kill the whale, that he is prepared to sacrifice everything, including his life, the lives of his crew members, and even his ship to find and destroy his nemesis, Moby Dick.
Of course the critics panned "Moby Dick" in 1956, just over a century after the book's appearance: they weren't ready for so adept a distillation of Melville's ruminative, free-associational quasi-novel. What they seem to have expected, even wanted, was a two-fisted sea saga with native girls in leis.
Not that Huston's film lacks action. There's plenty. But there's at least as much philosophical complexity, which means heavy-duty talk (all of it thought-provoking even if not entirely sensible) and a lot of significant throwaway lines that you'll overlook if you're unfamiliar with Melville (Ex.: "If God were a fish, he'd be a whale!") I first saw this movie on ABC-TV in 1966, and I watch it every time it comes on. In comparison with the original, which I once got to see in a theater, TCM's print needs big-time restoration. The original colors were somewhat muted to give the images an "antique" feel, but as shown on TV today (tonight, in fact) they are washed out at best and just weird at worst.
A short review can't do justice to this magnificent film, which includes one of Orson Welles's best later performances and one of Gregory Peck's best, period (no matter what he said later). The early scenes ashore, shot at Mystic Seaport, Conn. (the name is coincidentally perfect), are loaded with period atmosphere. Getting in the proper frame of mind may be a challenge for fans who haven't passed American Lit 201, but the right frame of mind and the ability to use more than just the ocular parts of your head truly is key.
The film's approach and intellectuality can be summed up by two quotes. First, the one above. The second (possibly the greatest line screenwriter Ray Bradbury ever wrote) comes when crazy Captain Ahab points to his charts and says, "Moby Dick will surface here!" His finger goes directly to Bikini Atoll, site of the first test of a hydrogen bomb. Not in the book, but completely in line with Melville's dark vision of humanity and the universe.
One of the best-crafted movies ever made, IMHO. Time for the gurus to quit raving about, say, "Grand Illusion," and take another look at a real masterpiece.
One of the all time greats
I love this film. It captures the mood and poetry of the book perfectly.The opening scenes are particularly effective in evoking place and time. In fact I can't think of any other film which achieves this difficult task so well. One sequence stands out in my mind the Pequod's leaving the port of New Bedford. There is no dialog during this sequence and very little on the sound track except the sounds of a whaling ship as it makes its way out to sea. The entire thing is presented as a series of vignettes which is among the finest in movies. I'm a bit surprised by the low rating. (I guess 7 is pretty good) Probably this is due to Peck in the lead and perhaps the special effects of the whale itself. But I've scene documentary footage of real sperm whales feeding and they actually do move that way. Enough said. The real kicker is could anyone dare to re-make it... I don't consider the Patrick Stewart t.v. version a remake so much as a sub-standard replica. Film students everywhere should see this Huston's definitive version and the director's best film.
John Huston's Moby Dick is an epic, a masterpiece, a unique and essential viewing experience. Some reviewers have said that Gregory Peck was grotesquely miscast as Captain Ahab, or that his acting was terrible. I think just the opposite, that he is the perfect Ahab. His face, his voice, his physical presence are the very backbone of the picture, and it would be hard to accept anyone else in the role after seeing Peck's Ahab. The entire movie is at the pinnacle of drama, sometimes at the edge of collapsing into self-parody while never quite doing so, and Peck's performance is entirely in keeping with this approach. It is risk-taking, by director and by actor, and if Peck goes over the edge in his scenery-chewing once or twice, far more often he is intensity restrained-driven in the very way that we want to see Ahab. The other actors are up to the challenges: Orson Welles as Father Mapple is one of the most memorable performances in his great career; veterans Leo Genn and Harry Andrews are well suited to their roles as the quiet and prim Starbuck and the boisterous Stubb; Royal Dano as Elijah is creepy and amusing; and Frederick Ledebur is a convincing and attractive Queequeg. If the cast has a weakness, it is in Richard Basehart as the 'young' Ishamel, but he is at least adequate and his voice is suited to the task of narrator. The music provides a lyrical background to the sailing scenes and a unique punctuation and highlighting to the dialog, adding weight and grandeur to each pronouncement-most especially those of Ahab-making the whole seem profound and poetic. Regrettably, the special effects are vintage 1956, making some of the great whaling scenes look like what they are: toys. That one quibble aside, this is simply magnificent entertainment that encourages thought.
A Gigantic of a Classic
Here's another film that I'd give 20 stars if they'd allow it. Gregory peck is simply someone who CAN'T make a bad film, and Moby Dick is one of his best! Someone said that Moby Dick was not evil, and he wasn't! He was a creature doing what creatures are supposed to do-LIVE and enjoy Life! Us humans, in our vain and smug superiority, convey our attributes (as Evil) onto animals for our own poor purposes, and this Ahab did with the White whale. It is a stunning movie, incredibly well-acted and scened. Some idiot reviewer in the 50's criticized it for not having any women or a love interest in it! Well hooray for Hollywood, for a change. Women don't belong in EVERY movie--Oh what did I say! Well, in this one, they'd be as out of place as a Christmas Carol on the Fourth of July! It's one of my personal all-time top ten favorites, along with Mr. Peck's CAPTAIN NEWMAN MD, and is a GREAT film. Don't miss it, and get the DVD!!!
A classic like none before or since!
If you have ever read the Herman Melville story of Moby Dick, then you will know how hard it must have been for John Huston to turn it into film. Thanks to Ray Bradbury's screenplay and great acting, this film became a classic. That it is not in the top 250 IMDB rated films is a shame. I hope that this is due to it's limited showings and therefore not being seen by many of this site's users. From the start to the finish the film is well paced. The casting of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab was wise. He commands the role well. Orson Welles appearance as the minister is also a treat to behold. Welles shows that he can add so much to a film whether it be a small role or a large one. Special effects are the only thing that could have been a bit better done. However, in 1956, depicting a great white whale with an attitude was not an easy accomplishment film making wise. This film does go into the relationship between man and God, so some folks will no doubt be prejudiced against the film. Keep in mind the story's time period and locale. The seafaring men of New England really did once hold God close to their heart. Melville's use of a whale to depict the struggle was good. Huston getting it onto film was even better. Sorry, I like the film better than the book
A Must Sea Classic
One of the best movies I've ever seen. It's a true epic and in some ways better than the book. Peck gives a "tour d'force" performance as Ahab. The screenplay is written by Ray Bradbury - One of the all-time greats of science fiction (Author of The Martian Chronicles, All Summer in a Day, etc.) He manages to add a few details to Melville's story that actually improve on the original. The camera work and casting, even of the extras, is of a caliber that makes every shot a painting. If you are a fan of sea stories, literary classics and fine acting and direction then this is a must see movie! I own a copy and have lost count of the number of times I've watched it, yet it still seems fresh every time.
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