A spectacular retelling of the Herman Melville classic, masterfully directed by John Huston, is unsurpassed in entertainment, imagination and high adventure. From the screenplayby Ray Bradberry and Huston, Moby Dick is a brilliant film (Time). Consumed by an insane rage, Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) has but one purpose in liferevenge on Moby Dick, the great white whale who maimed and disfigured him. The obsessed skipper of a whaling boat, Ahab uses his command as an excuse to sail the seven seas in an unrelenting search of his prey. Battling a mutinous crew, tropical heat and violent storms, Ahab finally catches up to his quarry and begins a confrontation that culminatesin an epic struggle of non-stop fury...and inevitable doom.
There are so many things right about this 1956 production of Moby Dick, it's a shame it is remembered for the one (debatable) thing wrong with it. As Captain Ahab, the bearded, one-legged, insanely obsessed whaler, Gregory Peck has often been called miscast. The mild, level-headed Peck had many talents, but the volcanic eruptions of Ahab seemed beyond him--even Peck himself felt he was a bad fit for the part after he finished playing it. (Pauline Kael opined that Peck looked like "a stock-company Lincoln.") Yet Peck's quiet brooding works an intriguing variation on the fiery character. John Huston, a director with a taste for location shooting, had his hands full with the difficult open-water filming in Ireland and the Canary Islands ("The catalogue of misadventures was unbelievable," he later wrote). Since Ahab is chasing the rare white whale, three false whales had to be constructed, two of which were lost at sea. For all the miscues, the film is amazingly controlled, and especially beautiful to look at: Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris developed an unusual color process meant to suggest old whaling engravings. The director wrote the script with the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, an inspired choice to adapt Herman Melville's epic novel. Richard Basehart plays the narrator, Ishmael, and Orson Welles provides a wonderful single-scene role as Father Mapple, declaiming the mysteries of the sailor's life in a thundering sermon. --Robert Horton