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Moby Dick

Moby Dick(1930)

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teaser Moby Dick (1930)

Joan Bennett won the role of Faith Mapple, Captain Ahab's fiancee in John Barrymore's sound version of Moby Dick (1930), when Barrymore's wife, actress Dolores Costello, could not play it because of pregnancy. Costello had played the role opposite Barrymore in The Sea Beast (1926), a silent version of Herman Melville's classic novel about a sea captain intent on destroying a Great White whale.

The creation of a love interest for Captain Ahab is one of many liberties the Warner Bros. screenwriting team take with Melville's book in both of the Barrymore screen versions. In this Moby Dick, Ahab's motivation for hunting down the whale is simple revenge, since the creature has destroyed his romance with Faith by causing him to lose a leg. The book's famous first-chapter opening line, "Call me Ishmael," is gone since the character of Ishmael has been eliminated. The script even dares to substitute a different beginning for the novel and attribute it to Melville! Other added elements include an evil brother who wants Faith for himself, and a completely different ending.

Perhaps to accommodate Barrymore's own proclivities, Ahab is portrayed in the movie as a hard-drinking scalawag. Bennett would later say that she did not see her costar drink a drop throughout the entire filming. But, as biographer Margot Peters writes in her book The House of Barrymore, this was "no evidence at all since Jack, like all alcoholics, was diabolically clever at tippling in secret." Peters also notes that Barrymore looks "shockingly older" than he had in The Sea Beast only four years earlier, "something which his opening acrobatics up in the crow's nest only emphasize."

Despite all this, Moby Dick emerged as one of Barrymore's biggest box-office hits and enhanced Bennett's budding movie career. The film is noteworthy for an early, experimental use of widescreen. As the first chase for Moby Dick begins, the screen widens. Then, when the whale closes in on Ahab, the screen returns to normal dimensions.

Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Oliver H.P. Garrett (adaptation), J. Grubb Alexander (screenplay and dialogue), from novel by Herman Melville
Cinematography: Robert Kurrle
Editing: Desmond O'Brien
Special Effects: Fred Jackman
Music Director: Erno Rapee
Principal Cast: John Barrymore (Captain Ahab Ceely), Joan Bennett (Faith Mapple), Lloyd Hughes (Derek Ceely), Noble Johnson (Queequeq), Nigel De Brulier (Elijah).
BW-78m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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