Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn, James Robertson Justice, Harry Andrews, Bernard Miles, Noel Purcell, Edric Connor, Mervyn Johns, Joseph Tomelty, Francis De Wolff, Philip Stainton, Royal Dano, Seamus Kelly, Friedrich von Ledebur, Orson Welles
Written by: Ray Bradbury, John Huston, based on a novel by Herman Melville
Directed by: John Huston
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 116
Date: 06/27/1956

Moby Dick (1956)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Whale Storm

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of course, it's lunacy to try to make a movie out of a novel as sprawling, as complex, and as masterful as Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but taken for what it is, John Huston's 1956 movie is pretty entertaining. Richard Basehart narrates as Ishmael, befriends the harpooner Queequeg (Friedrich von Ledebur), and listens to a sermon by Father Mapple (Orson Welles). (Mapple speaks from a pulpit decorated to look like the front of a ship.) From there, they sign on with the Pequod, captained by the mysterious, obsessed Ahab (Gregory Peck), who wishes -- at any cost -- to capture the great white whale known as Moby Dick.

Huston recruited another great novelist (albeit from a different era and different style), Ray Bradbury, to help write the screenplay, and it's full of beautiful, raging dialogue. Peck sinks his teeth into it, and -- even though he looks like Abraham Lincoln -- gives a mesmerizingly crazed performance. Huston matches him with his grayish color palette and showstopping storms at sea. The visual effects when the hunters finally catch up with the scarred, horrific beast are still pretty impressive. Interestingly, Welles and Huston worked together several times in various capacities over the years. Peck took over the role of Father Mapple in a 1998 TV version, and won a Golden Globe.

Kino Lorber released Moby Dick on a fresh new DVD in 2015, though no Blu-ray. It supplants a 2001 DVD released by MGM, which I haven't seen, so I have no idea about any kind of upgrade. It includes optional subtitles, and the only extras are a handful of trailers.

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