Moby Dick – A Whale of a Movie – Review – The Suburban Times

I walked to the Lakewood Colonial Theater in 1956 to see the film Moby Dick.

I walked to the Lakewood Colonial Theater in 1956 from our home on Maple Avenue to see the film Moby Dick. I would have been 11 or 12. I had read the CLASSICS Illustrated comic book before seeing the film and then read the Herman Melville book later. As a teenager I subscribed to a monthly mailing of famous authors. The two images that stayed with me from the film: Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab dead on Moby Dick’s back, his body entwined in harpoon ropes with one arm flopping back and forth, beckoning to the sailors of the Pequod. The second image was that of Ishmael clinging to the floating coffin of his friend de el Queequeg.

Here is the official trailer for Moby Dick – imdb.com/video/vi2994519577

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Basehart’s character seems to see everything as an adventure.

I recently rewatched Moby Dick and was pleasantly surprised, again. The title itself is believed to have come from an 1839 article in New York’s Knickerbocker Magazine, penned by author Jeremiah Reynolds. In the writing, Reynolds talked about a giant white whale known for its violence toward sailing vessels and their crews. The whale was often seen in the waters off the island of Mocha, located off the coast of Chile. Reynolds described the whale in a number of ways, including “white as wool, with a rugged appearance, both large and strong.” Reynolds went on to describe the whale as “. . . a tale widely told among sailors.”
Meaning of the Title Moby Dick – study.com/academy/lesson/meaning-of-the-title-moby-dick.html

It took me a few years to learn the significance of any film directed by John Huston. Here is a short list of my favorites of Huston’s movies: The African Queen, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, and The Man Who Would Be King. Later I would treasure the Quique screenplay’s writer, Ray Bradbury, for his wonderful imagination and his science fiction. Huston and Bradbury dueled over the script.

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The preacher Father Mapple was played by Orson Wells.

Moby Dick begins with actor Richard Basehart cheerfully walking through the woods, over the hills and alongside streams. He says to no one in particular, “Call me Ishmael.” Melville evoked the imagery surrounding the biblical figure of Ishmael as an outcast, but Basehart’s character seems to see everything as an adventure, from dancing and singing with the sailors to joining the crew.

The preacher, played by Orson Wells, was a little baffling to me as a youngster, but really interesting as an adult. I remembered the church, however, with its prow of a ship above the heads of the congregation with Wells looking down and spinning tales of death as sea. It was almost a given that sailors will eventually die at sea. Knowing that didn’t stop the sailors, but then we also know that we are all going to die, so perhaps the place and the manner of death don’t matter.

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For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God?” — Father Mapple (Orson Welles)

“O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be these worlds. Yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God? — Father Mapple (Orson Welles)

We don’t meet Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) until well into the film, but we hear him and his one-legged gate beating out a cadence on deck. Ahab only has one goal and everyone else slowly realizes they will do his bidding on him. “I don’t give reasons. I give orders.” — Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck). On a previous voyage, the white whale Moby Dick bit off Ahab’s leg. He wears a prosthetic leg of whalebone.

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Ahab (Gregory Peck) only has one goal and everyone else slowly realizes they will do his bidding.

The ship’s crew does what they are told to do, but not all know where their adventure leads them. “At sea one day, you’ll smell land where there’ll be no land, and on that day, Ahab will go to his grave, but he’ll rise again within the hour. He will rise and back. Then all; all save one shall follow.” (Slinking away with a smile on his face.) “Mornin’, lads — mornin’. May the heavens bless you.” — Elijah (Royal Dano)

The actor Royal Dano, had many parts in films and television. I remember seeing him as bearded, drunk and dirty in more than one film or TV show. He was a great character actor with a gaunt face, dark hair, a rangy build, and a very distinctive deep, croaky voice.

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“Ahab will go to his grave, but he’ll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon.”

Eventually we understand, the ship and the sailors are there only for one reason: to seek, find, and kill Moby Dick. The ship and crew find Moby Dick, lose him. and follow him. “Long days and nights we strained at the oars while a white whale swam freely on, widening the waters between himself and Ahab’s vengeance.” — Ishmael (Richard Basehart)

“That ain’t no whale; that a great white god.” — Pip (Tamba Allenby)

“That ain’t no whale; that a great white god.” — Pip (Tamba Allenby)

Herman Melville said that “Ignorance is the parent of fear,” yet Ahab and his crew were not afraid.

user review
Calls you to the sea again… This is a film that becomes part of you. I used to watch it over and over again on TV when it was shown during my childhood in the 1960’s, and I never tire of watching it. And whenever I find myself living somewhere away from the ocean, the longing is intense to find water again. Call me Ishmael.

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“Ignorance is the parent of fear,” yet Ahab and his crew were not afraid.

The screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury, and it was his first. In his lectures and interviews of him, Bradbury always seems to tell the story of how John Huston contacted him out of the blue for this assignment. Evidently, Huston flew Bradbury and his wife to Ireland, where the science fiction writer was holed up in a hotel for a few weeks, in a wonderful agony of creation.

I found the film on Prime. Like the User reviewer above I already plan to watch the film again. . . and possibly more times.

Herman Melville said that “Ignorance is the parent of fear,” yet Ahab and his crew were not afraid.

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