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Thursday, January 7, 2016

MOBY DICK (1956)

The whales may have dated, but this John Huston/Ray Bradbury triage adaptation of the mighty Melville tome has only strengthened over the years. With a handsome, dramatic ‘etched’ look, built from a limited TechniColor palette, cinematographer Oswald Morris & Huston achieve a distinctive, if occasionally fussy, lithographic/storybook setting; it’s particularly effective in the imaginatively cast introductory scenes before we ship out. Not a sign of Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab till the middle of the fourth reel. (A delayed star entrance if ever there was one.) And it’s here opinions divide.* A major disappointment on release, the failure was largely charged to Peck’s slow burn restraint as the obsessed, self-immolating Captain hunting up an unnatural revenge against an unnatural nemesis. And if his acting choices now look better than remembered, he’s still miscast. The experience is like biting into something sweet when you were expecting savory. Maybe good, maybe bad, just not what you expected. (The score, a one-off from Philip Sainton, is also not what you expected.) Pay special attention to a late scene where Ahab refuses to help search for a missing boy from another ship. Suddenly, Peck nails the character. The film’s worthwhile whichever side of the Peck fence you come down on.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: *A decade on, George C. Scott would have been an easy choice for Ahab; PATTON/’70 something of a near cousin. But who at the time had the star clout & acting chops needed? You can see what Spencer Tracy might have done by watching PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE/’52, right down to his playing adversary against this film’s Starbuck, Leo Genn. A better bet is found in RUN SILENT RUN DEEP/’58, a submarine drama with two possible Ahabs: Burt Lancaster or (no kiddin’) Clark Gable.

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