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.Written by
E.W. DesMarais <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Richard Basehart's Ishmael is walking into the Youghal. County Cork, location of New Bedford in the opening scene, the first shot is from the top of Powetscourt waterfall, County Wicklow, a mere 251 kms up the road! See more »
When the white whale rams the ship, the main mast breaks and comes down, crow's-nest and all, hitting the cabin boy. The whale circles the ship creating a whirlpool; when we see wider shots of the ship spinning and sinking, the mast is back up. See more »
In the 1960s English professors and film critics delighted in bashing this film. The professors took the line that the movie wasn't Melville, while the critics dismissed Peck's interpretation of Captain Ahab as "stiff." Neither view holds up well today.
Huston's "Moby Dick" isn't the whole book, but what film is? Though he doesn't give you the breadth or the depth, Huston does deliver much of the spirit and heart of the novel. The production values are splendid and the supporting players outstanding. No one can top Orson Welles as Father Mapple, but Leo Genn's Starbuck comes close. My only complaint is with Richard Basehart, who was a good actor but at 42 much too old for Ishmael, who I believe is in his early 20s. Stray thought - I wonder what James Dean would have done with Ishmael?
As for Peck, who else could have attempted this role in the mid-50s? John Wayne? Gary Cooper? Let's be serious. Sterling Hayden (who actually was quite a sailor) had the proper face and frame, but Hayden was never a box office draw and likely wasn't considered. More to the point, Peck was a much better actor. Though a bit young for Ahab, he certainly conveys both the man's insanity and his magnetism, which of course are inseparable. In so many films ("Twelve O'Clock High", "Pork Chop Hill", "The Guns of Navarone"), Peck was nothing if not a leader. Here he leads convincingly, which is essential, for Ahab is not Captain Quegg. In spite of everything Ahab's men do not mutiny, they follow him down, and with Peck in the role you accept it. Was he stiff? Well, try walking around with a pegleg. You'll probably feel a bit stiff yourself. Better to call Peck's Ahab rigid and unflinching, qualities that are central to the character. I have not seen Patrick Stewart's interpretation, but I doubt his Ahab achieves either Peck's demonic fury or his stone-hearted resolve.
There have been few better films of life at sea and few better interpretations of classic literature. "Moby Dick" is a treasure grown richer with age.
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