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USA 1956
Directed by
John Huston
116 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Moby Dick

John Huston’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel is a commendably bracing affair the stays faithful to its literary source. Richard Basehart plays Ishmael, Melville’s narrator/adventurer who signs onto the Pequod, a New England  whaling ship under the command of Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) who is obsessed by the idea of killing Moby Dick, the great white whale to which he lost his leg.

Ray Bradbury’s script (to which Roald Dahl and John Goldley contributed after Huston and Bradbury fell out) economically pares the novel down to its essential story and preserves the characters such as Starbuck (Leo Genn), Stubb (Harry Andrews) and Queequeg (Friedrich Ledebur) but most effectively it maintains Melville’s  lofty, almost Shakespearean language and the novel’s Biblically allegorical  spirit (a combination well-exemplified in Orson Welles’s God-fearin' pulpit sermon that warns of the perils of the deep, blue sea.

Gregory Peck may not have been the actor most suited to the role (surely Welles would have made a meal of it) but he forgoes his usual gentlemanly screen persona and obligingly glowers with a bitter obsessiveness that both intimidates and inspires his crew.  He and Moby Dick are the film’s only major characters, Basehart having little to do and Leo Genn rather too mild-mannered as Starbuck.

Huston uses dramatic camera angles and carefully composed configurations of characters (and even some post-production SFX) to convey the drama whilst Oswald Morris' umbrageous colour scheme chimes strikingly with the gloomily olde worlde setting.

What is not so effective is the rendition of the monster whale. Needless to say this looks very awkward by today’s standards but this is not a fault of a film which remains an impressive effort.




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