Director: John Huston
Script: John Huston & Ray Bradbury
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, James Robertson Justice, Leo Glenn, Orson Welles, Bernard Miles, Harry Andrews, Edric Connor, Mervyn Johns, Neal Purcell
Running time: 115 minutes
Based on Herman Melvilles’s American novel of the same name, and adapted to the screen by sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), with some help from director John Huston, Moby Dick tells the story of Ahab (Peck), a whaling boat captain, who has become obsessed with exacting revenge on a white sperm whale that he calls ‘Moby Dick’; a whale that ‘took his leg’ during an earlier encounter.
The film kicks off in 1841 when young Ishmael (Basehart) turns up at the docks looking for work and signs up for service aboard Ahab’s ship, the Pequod. After introducing us to a few of the key characters in the film, including a native warrior, Starbuck (Leo Glenn), and giving us a taste of a sailor’s shore-life (lots of singing and drinking), the film kicks into gear when the Perquod sets sail on its three year-long whaling trip.
At first Ahab remains in his cabin, except for pounding the boards with his ivory peg-leg late at night, but once the ship is properly out at sea he makes an appearance and pushes the men hard to find his nemesis, even offering them a valuable gold coin to whoever spots the elusive white whale. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Ahab is somewhat unhinged in his obsession for revenge and he seems prepared to sacrifice everything, even his ship and crew, to destroy Moby Dick. This causes tensions aboard ship, even a near mutiny, and costs the life of one of the crew.
For those unfamiliar with the book or story, in general, I would recommend that you check out the novel and the film, as both are certainly worth your time investigating. John Huston’s version is probably the definitive movie version of the oft-told tale, but there are other fun features out there bearing the same name.
This version of Moby Dick is well realised with excellent sets and models of ships, and the performances are excellent across the board, although modern audiences may find the directing style a bit static compared to more recent films; although there are some very cool shots, including one from the mast head, looking down. For the most part the film feels very authentic for the period it was set in, although there are a few slippages. For example, Ahab’s facial scar looks quite fake in close-up shots, which is a shame as Peck’s performance is imPeckable. Sorry! Sadly, and more seriously, the whale-hunting sequences do not look fake at all and will therefore, understandably, upset animal lovers everywhere.
The pacing of the film is rather slow, in places, with the pace coming to a halt during some extended speeches and scene-setting montages that do little to drive the narrative forward. However, once the titular whale hoves into view things become interesting again and the climax doesn’t disappoint.
Studiocanal is distributing Moby Dick on Blu-Ray and DVD. As per usual Studiocanal has provided some decent special features including:
- Audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor and Nick Redman;
- Interview with Angela Allen (5 mins) – An interview with the script supervisor on the film who seems very with it and remembers a lot of detail. Apparently she’d already done three films with John Huston prior to this one and thought Gregory Peck was “too nice to be Ahab”.
- A bleached whale (5.5 mins) – A featurette on recreating the unique colour of Moby Dick. We also learn that Oswald Morris, who was DoP on the film, had previously done ‘Oliver!’ the musical.
- Original Theatrical trailer (3 mins) – A bit over-long for my tastes.
- Behind-the-scenes stills gallery – This features some good behind-the scenes stuff plus some cool posters.