MOBY DICK (1956). Directed by John Huston,from a script by Huston and Ray Bradbury, based on Herman Melville's classic novel. It was Bradbury's first movie scenario.
Filming a great piece of literature is ipso facto asking for trouble,especially objections by critics who know the book well and others who don't but pretend they do. No doubt there are some weaknesses to this adaptation, but certainly not as many as it was thought when the film came out -- and the qualities far outweigh them.
It is also infinitely superior to the silent, 1926 "The Sea Beast" a version with John Barrymore that makes Huston's film look even better, and to the 1930 Barrymore talkie "Moby Dick."
The major objection was in the casting of the not very passionate (at least by the theatrical or Method standards of the day) Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. But with the passing years, Peck now seems to have done a far better job than many 1956 reviews credited (or debited) him with.
The rest of the cast (Richard Basehart, Leo Genn, Orson Welles, etc.) are most convincing. I can only cavil at the strange accent ofstrian Friedrich Ledebur in the role of Queequeg. Otherwise, the power and sincerity of the film make it rather memorable, as do its technical aspects.
Huston had an old ship he found in England rebuilt to match Melville's description of the Pequod. He recreated with superb skill the New Bedford, Mass. of the 1840's in Youghal, an old Irish seaport. The sea and whaling scenes were shot all over, off the Azores, in Portuguese waters, near Wales and around the Canary Islands.
To produce special, muted color, roughly like the golden aquatint tones of old whaling prints, Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris came up with a new process by making one Technicolor negative, another one in black and white, then printing them together.
There's an impressive,stark beauty about this film. Among the great sequences, the departure of the Pequod from New Bedford is a masterpiece of montage, camera angles, music and photography. (Edwin Jahiel)
[Publ. February 1989]