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Moby Dick - the Movie

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on August 7, 2012

An excellent depiction of one of the greatest sea stories

In my humble opinion, the 1956 motion picture “Moby Dick”, directed by John Huston and staring Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn, and Orson Wells, is one of the best maritime movies of all time.  First, the story is a classic.  The screenplay, by Ray Bradbury, closely follows the book by Herman Melville.  The acting, by all with the exception of the title character, was outstanding.  Finally, the cinematography was realistic.  Gregory Peck, as Captain Ahab, was at the top of his game and very believable as the demonic pursuer of the great white whale.  Richard Basehart, as the novice seaman Ishmael, started out as a green landsman and matured into an experienced crewmember before the movie ended.  Leo Genn, as the chief mate Starbuck, agonized as he was drawn into conflict between his duty to his captain and his duty to his god.  Orson Wells turned a small scene as Father Mapple at the beginning of the movie into a memorable role laying the foundation for much of the future action.  The film was also filled with well-acted smaller parts, from the Quaker ship owners to Queequeg, the harpooner from a South Sea island.  In the well-known story, Captain Ahab drives his crew to hunt the seven seas for the white sperm whale that took off one of Ahab’s legs many years previously.  Starbuck likens the action to blasphemy, but is powerless to stop it.  The crew is divided, some supporting Starbuck, but most feeling obligated to follow Ahab.  In the climatic encounter, Ahab is drowned by Moby Dick when he becomes entangled in lines across the head of the whale.  Starbuck and the others make one last attempt to kill the whale, but it swamps the whale boats, drowning the crews.  Moby Dick then rams and sinks the whaleship Pequod.  Only Ishmael survives, clinging to the coffin that had been built water-tight for his close friend Queequed.  Director John Huston had chartered the 1887-built sailing vessel Moby Dick (nee Ryelands) for the filming.  While not constructed as a whaler, it was a true sailing vessel and required few changes to appear realistic on screen.  Huston even took his film crew out on a real whale hunt by Madeira Islanders and inserted portions of the 16mm shots into the movie.  


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