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  • Moby Dick
    • Moby Dick
    • Runtime:116 min
    • Release Date:2017-01-18 19:07:33
    • Director: John Huston
    • Genres: Adventure, Drama
    • Studio:


Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" is one of those many works of classic
literature which "everyone" has read and I haven't, so unlike some of
those who have posted here I am unable to compare the film with the
original novel. The story is too well-known for me to summarise the
plot here, but it revolves around the obsession of a nineteenth-century
whaling captain with killing an enormous white whale which, on an
earlier voyage, was responsible for taking off one of his legs.

When the film first appeared in 1956 there was some criticism of the
casting of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab; he was not the first choice of
director John Huston, but the studio insisted on a big-name star for
the role. Certainly, this was a case of casting against type. Peck was
generally known for playing thoughtful, rational characters (a
reputation which was to be strengthened after 1956 when he appeared in
films like "The Big Country" and "To Kill a Mockingbird") so he was not
perhaps the most obvious choice to play a man dominated by a single
insane obsession.

Peck was apparently dissatisfied with his own performance in this film,
but I have always thought that he was doing himself an injustice. I can
think of some actors who would have turned Ahab into a ranting, carpet-
chewing maniac, but Peck's interpretation is very different. He plays
Ahab as a handsome, charismatic individual, capable of winning the
loyalty and affection of his crew, who are happy to support his pursuit
of Moby Dick, and only irrational on the subject of the whale.

The other key performance in the film comes from Leo Genn as Starbuck,
the first mate who acts as the voice of reason on board the Pequod. (He
is in fact similar to the roles that Peck himself played in many of his
other films). Starbuck is the one man among the crew to oppose Ahab; he
is calm, rational and deeply religious, and regards Ahab's obsessive
pursuit of the white whale in search of vengeance as being both insane
and ungodly. Starbuck's protests, however, have little effect on the
rest of the crew. Other fine contributions come from Orson Welles in a
cameo appearance as Father Mapple, the priest who blesses the crew
before they set off on their voyage, and the little-known Austrian
actor Friedrich von Ledebur as the South Sea islander Queequeg.

Apart from the acting, what makes this film stand out is the fact that
it combines action and adventure with a highly literate screenplay. (It
was adapted from Melville's novel by the distinguished author Ray
Bradbury). As an action-adventure film it is a very good one with
excellent special effects considering the period in which it was made.
The final scenes in which Ahab and his crew try desperately to kill the
whale are particularly well done. There is more to the film, however,
than just an exciting adventure story about life aboard a Victorian
sailing vessel. The script touches on matters of philosophical import
such as the relationship between man and God, the relationship between
man and nature and the relationship between reason and irrationality.

Huston was in some ways the Captain Ahab of the movie industry, a man
who could often become obsessive in pursuit of his goals. He could also
be a difficult man to work with; he is reported to have clashed with
several others involved in this film, including Peck and Bradbury. At
his worst he could turn out some very second-rate films; he was, for
example, responsible for that dreadful Bond spoof "Casino Royale". At
his best, however, he was one of the cinema's great directors, and
"Moby Dick" must rate as one of his greatest films, up there with the
likes of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "The Red Badge of Courage" and
"The African Queen". 9/10


Moby Dick (1956)

Stunning low key color, remarkable special effects, a stern Gregory
Peck as Ahab, and a cast of ruffians and odd characters from the world
'round. This is about as good as you can do with the novel, which is
huge and which depends often on long passages of brilliant writing.
Some of the monologues are here, and they are a high point of the

The tale is amazing, filled with metaphors of man's free will, his
relationship to God and Nature, his duty to captain and to self, and
his fighting for survival. It's also about legends and myth, and it
transports us to a time mostly gone where the seas were more mystery
than mere vastness. Everything is done by hand, and one pleasure of the
movie is seeing an accurate depiction of the times, and the industry.

You do wonder now and then why the movie isn't even better. Why doesn't
it really shake you to the bones, or make you question the meaning of
life, or get weepy for the whale? Maybe it's because the language and
the ideals are 150 years old. Times do change. The currents are the
same, the big ones, but they get put forward (and illustrated) in a way
that feels, well, illustrative. Allegorical. Which is terrific, but
something less palpable. Interesting to see Ray Bradbury helping Huston
with the adaptation.

I also don't know how to view Peck's job as Ahab. There is something
perfect about him, very consistent, and strong (and that voice). But
maybe Ahab was a little scarier and more mysterious than this (that's
my memory from the book). Ahab was not just large, in life, but larger
than life. Like the whale.

A remarkable effort, for sure. John Huston's manly ethic finds a
perfect palette here. And without Bogart, but with a small part for a
Walter Brennan-like bit actor Royal Dano, and great sermon by Orson


As long has the art of film as existed, people have made film based on
classic novels. Some of them are pretty good, but most of them fail to
capture the heart of the the story. This film does not fall under the
latter category. This must the one of the best film adaptations of a
book I've seen. I admit I have not read the book, so for you who have
this might be a disappointment, or maybe you'll love it, I don't know.
But as a film, this deserves the title as a cinematic masterpiece.

I rarely expect much from such movies. I was expecting a simple film
about an obsessed whaler seeking revenge. But I failed to predict the
dept of this movie. The many character, all the individual conflicts,
the dialogue, the symbolism, and the narrative was handled which such
excellency. John Huston really did a marvel job with this film. I've
seen equal and even better skills, but there are very few of them. And
that still sets this film above hundreds of not thousands of other
films. I guess this is a bit of a cliché, but still valid thing to say
"they don't make them like they used too". Despite it's age, and some
cheesy effects, it is all forgotten and ignored, as this film
captivates you from the beginning.

this film deserves nothing but a 10/10.


The fact that I never read the novel and yet am writing a review of
this film isn't surprising. After all, reportedly the screenwriter (Ray
Bradbury) didn't read the book, either! And, I assume there are only
about 24 people (other than Melville and his mommy) who read the tale!
I happen to have a good friend who is an English teacher and he advised
me not to even try to read this ponderous book–though he also
indicated there is a lot of religious allegory in the story that simply
isn't in the movie.

The film starts oddly, as the main character, Ishmael, enters a pub and
talks with a very odd barman. That's because I immediately recognized
the barkeep's voice as that of the film's director, John Huston. I
guess Huston didn't like the actor's voice and substituted his own!
Ishmael meets up with a very unlikely character in the pub–Queequeg–a
heavily tattooed man from some unnamed island. The two decide to become
friends and ship out together on a whaler. By chance, they pick the
Pequod–the fated ship helmed by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab (Gregory
Peck). Apparently the Ahab of the novel was a lot older, but I really
didn't care–it just seemed odd that the nice-guy actor was playing
such an unlikable role. What also was odd is that although he was such
a central character to the story, he didn't make his appearance until
over half an hour into the film! Talk about making a dramatic entrance!
You knew it was coming but just kept waiting in anticipation until he
appeared–a very smart device, actually.

Ahab's monomania becomes apparent halfway through the film. In the
midst of a huge pod of whales, the Captain learns from another captain
that Moby Dick has been sighted a month earlier. While this other
captain also lost a limb to this white sperm whale, he didn't have an
all-consuming need to kill the creature–but Ahab did. So, in the
middle of a huge haul of whale blubber, he orders the crew to discard
the carcasses and head toward Madagascar! It's pretty obvious he's a
loony at this point–as the ship's mission to fill its hold with whale
oil seems irrelevant to Ahab! Will the men survive this nut-case's
consuming passion? And, will the audience survive the many long-winded
soliloquies that Ahab bellows during the last third of the film (it's

As far as the look of the film goes, I was very impressed. The color
palate is very brown and gray and works very well with this
film–setting a very somber and appropriate mood. Likewise the
camera-work is excellent. In essence, it's a very well executed
film–with lots of technical prowess. But the story, while fascinating,
bogs down towards the end simply because of the over-acting and
long-winded nature of Ahab. Whether this is Melville's fault or the
film makers' I have no idea. Regardless, it's a very good film but one
that taxes your patience near the end.

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