Moby Dick


1h 56m 1956
Moby Dick

Brief Synopsis

Epic adaptation of Herman Melville's classic about a vengeful sea captain out to catch the whale that maimed him.

Film Details

Also Known As
Herman Melville's Moby Dick
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Release Date
Jun 30, 1956
Premiere Information
New Bedford, MA opening: 27 Jun 1956; Los Angeles opening: 2 Jul 1956; New York opening: 4 Jul 1956
Production Company
Moulin Productions, Ltd.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Canary Islands,United States; Canary Islands,Spain; Canary Islands--Las Palmas,Spain; County --Youghal, Ireland, Great Britain; County Cork--Youghal, Ireland, Great Britain; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Fishguard, Wales, Great Britain; London--Elstree, England, Great Britain; Madeira,United States; Madeira,Portugal; hold hold, United States; South Africa
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Moby-Dick; or: The Whale by Herman Melville (New York, 1851).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 56m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

In 1841, merchant sailor Ishmael, having spent too much time on land, restlessly heads for the sea and arrives in New Bedford. At the Spouter Inn run by Peter Coffin, he takes a room after agreeing to share a bed with a harpooner. Coffin informs Ishmael that he needs "permission" to go whaling and, Stubb, another sailor, explains that the sea belongs to the men of New Bedford. When asked if he disputes this claim, Ishmael answers no and so is accepted by the other sailors. Through the window, Ishmael sees a lone man with a peg leg and is told that the man is Capt. Ahab. Later, after Ishmael is in bed, a man carrying a harpoon enters, sets down a human head, and takes off his hat and clothes, revealing a bald head and elaborate body tattoos. When the man, Queequeg, realizes the bed is not empty, he threatens to kill Ishmael. Responding to Ishmael's frantic call for help, Coffin comes in and calms them. Although Ishmael now realizes that his bedmate is a cannibal, he decides, "better a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian" and settles in for the night. The next day, Ishmael attends service at the "whalemen's chapel," where the walls are lined with tombstones of local men lost at sea. The reverend, Father Mapple, climbs a rope ladder to a pulpit built like the bow of a ship and preaches a stirring sermon to the sailors and their families about Jonah and the whale. Afterward, Ishmael finds Queequeg in their room, fascinated by the many pages of his books. The exotic man, whose father was an island king, tells Ishmael how he stowed away on a passing ship many years ago and vows to be Ishmael's lifelong friend. The next day, they choose to sail together on the Pequod , the ship captained by Ahab. Quakers Peleg and Bildad, who represent the ship owners, hire Ishmael, but are at first reluctant to sign on the heathen. Queequeg demonstrates his prowess with the harpoon by shooting a keg, thus proving his usefulness, as an expert harpooner is vital to the success of catching whales. Later, at the harbor, Ishmael and Queequeg encounter Elijah, a raggedy man who tries to warn them about the danger of sailing with Ahab. When the sailors take no heed of him, Elijah foretells that, on the day their shipmates smell land where there is none, Ahab will go to his grave, then "rise within the hour" and beckon, after which "all, save one, will follow." Leaving their women behind, the Pequod departs on a three-year voyage with a crew from all over the world. Starbuck, the first mate, is reliable, courageous and wise. The jolly Stubb is the second mate. For many days, Ahab remains in seclusion, coming out only at night to walk the deck. Then, one day, he emerges, nails a Spanish doubloon to the mast and explains that the first crewman to spot a certain white whale, called Moby Dick, will be rewarded with it. When Starbuck asks if Moby Dick was the whale that took his leg, Ahab says, "It tore my soul and body until they bled into each other." Following an old sailors' custom, Ahab rouses the crew to vow to chase the whale across the world until they kill it. When a whale is spotted, the shipmates ride out in longboats to harpoon the first capture of the voyage. They boil its blubber to oil, which will later be sold for profit. Ahab shows Starbuck a logbook containing the knowledge of many old whalers, which notes times and places various types of whales were sighted. Although Starbuck realizes the logbook can be used to track down whales "in record time," thus increasing the ship's profits, Ahab explains that their "bigger business," that of killing Moby Dick must be their priority. Reckoning by the logbook, Ahab expects that the whale will be in the area of Bikini Island in April and plans to meet him there. Knowing that the men stand behind Ahab, Starbuck makes no plans to oppose him, but believes that killing an animal in vengeance is blasphemous. Ahab orders the ship south, where the crewmen soon encounter a school of whales. The men are busy capturing one, when a ship approaches, its captain having recently lost a hand to Moby Dick. Confirming through the captain that his nemesis is heading toward Bikini, Ahab orders his men to cut loose their prey, so that they lose no time in pursuing Moby Dick. Forced to sacrifice the potential profit from the school of whales and fearing God's wrath, Starbuck suggests to Stubb and the other mates that they mutiny, but gives up when the men remain loyal to Ahab. At Bikini, eager to be the first to spot the whale, a lookout falls into the sea and his body is lost. The death seems like a bad omen for the men, who wait many days for the whale in hot sun and windless sea. While divining with bones, Queequeg foretells his own death and instructs the ship's carpenter to build a waterproof coffin. He then takes up a trance-like position and waits to die. Although Ishmael tries to convince him to eat, Queequeg remains still, prompting Ishmael to remind him of his oath of lasting friendship. When, in mischief, a sailor cuts patterns on Queequeg's chest with a knife, Queequeg makes no move, but Ishmael fights to stop the man. Seeing his friend in danger, Queequeg comes to Ishmael's aid, just as Moby Dick is spotted in the distance. As there is no wind, Ahab orders that longboats tow the ship toward the whale. When the whale outpaces them, Ahab announces that he will give the crew his ten percent profit in the voyage when Moby Dick is dead. The ship Rachel , which lost a longboat full of sailors in a bout with the whale, sails nearby. Capt. Gardiner, whose twelve-year-old son is on the missing longboat, asks for the Pequod 's help in finding the men, but Ahab refuses, unwilling to deter from his quest. The sailors of both ships are shocked by this breach of mariner etiquette, but Ahab entrances his men with a speech that revives the Pequod crew's fervor to catch the whale. Later, the crew risks their lives fighting a typhoon, but Ahab considers its wind "heaven-sent" and orders the men not to drop the sails. In fear of capsizing, Starbuck prepares to chop the sails' ropes, prompting Ahab to threaten to kill him. The spear Ahab holds glows green from St. Elmo's fire and the crew watches in awe. Soon the typhoon dissipates and the crewmen, except for Starbuck, marvel that Ahab "called the typhoon's bluff" and "grabbed St. Elmo's fire by the tail." As the day turns sunny and mild, Starbuck struggles with his conscience whether to shoot Ahab with a pistol, but when he finds he is unable to pull the trigger, Ahab explains that they are "tied together," their mission "immutably decreed." The sailors then smell land, reminding Ishmael of Elijah's prophecy. Seeing Moby Dick in the distance, Ahab and the crew row out to meet him. The sailors harpoon the whale, which pitches, causing the boats to overturn. Grabbing the harpoon ropes, Ahab climbs onto the whale's back and, with his spear, jabs at the whale. In retaliation, Moby Dick dives underwater and remains there. When the animal emerges, the drowned Ahab, entangled in the ropes, seems to beckon to the sailors as his arm flails in the sea. Stubb and the other sailors admit defeat, but Starbuck now feels compelled to kill the whale and orders them forward. Moby Dick, however, overturns the longboats and jumps over them, crushing the men with his tail. He then swims to the ship, crashing into it, beating it until it sinks. The airtight coffin of Queequeg emerges from the bits of the ship and Ishmael, the only survivor, takes refuge on it. There he lies until the Rachel , still in search of its longboat, rescues him.

Film Details

Also Known As
Herman Melville's Moby Dick
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Release Date
Jun 30, 1956
Premiere Information
New Bedford, MA opening: 27 Jun 1956; Los Angeles opening: 2 Jul 1956; New York opening: 4 Jul 1956
Production Company
Moulin Productions, Ltd.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Canary Islands,United States; Canary Islands,Spain; Canary Islands--Las Palmas,Spain; County --Youghal, Ireland, Great Britain; County Cork--Youghal, Ireland, Great Britain; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Fishguard, Wales, Great Britain; London--Elstree, England, Great Britain; Madeira,United States; Madeira,Portugal; hold hold, United States; South Africa
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Moby-Dick; or: The Whale by Herman Melville (New York, 1851).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 56m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Articles

Moby Dick (1956)


To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee! - Captain Ahab

The story of a sea captain, obsessed with the white whale that took his leg, became an obsession in its own way for one of Hollywood's greatest directors. John Huston read Herman Melville's Moby Dick when he was sixteen and had dreamed of making a film of it as soon as he began directing The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Huston saw his father Walter Huston as the perfect Ahab and after John and his father received Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor respectively for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a chance to make their big-budget adaptation became a reality. Then, in 1950, Walter suddenly died of an aneurysm and John was forced to find another Ahab.

Gregory Peck became Huston's new choice through a chance meeting at a Hollywood party. Peck was not sure he was right for the role, in fact, he always thought John Huston would have done a better job. However, Peck's box office draw delighted Warner Brothers who seconded Huston's choice. Still, some critics disliked Peck's performance, but the director always thought he conveyed the exact quality he wanted for the obsessed seaman. "Here was a man who shook his fist at God," is how Huston described Ahab.

To condense Melville's mammoth novel, Huston first turned to Anthony Veiller (The Stranger, 1946, The Killers, 1946). However, after a falling out with the screenwriter over his previous film Beat the Devil (1953), Huston turned to Ray Bradbury, a writer then known only for science-fiction books like The Martian Chronicles (1950). Bradbury had come to Huston's attention after sending fan letters to the director, begging for a chance to work with him. They were fan letters Bradbury probably came to regret as their collaboration became combative and ultimately provoked a lawsuit over screen credit. After Bradbury left, Roald Dahl and John Goldley made uncredited additions to the script.

The shoot was no calmer. A ninety-foot model of the great white whale was built for $30,000. A tug pulled it out into the Irish Sea and, after two shots were completed, the towline snapped and the whale quickly sank. A second whale was built on a barge but a storm also sank it without a trace. Finally a third whale was built and again the towline snapped. Huston had had enough. He climbed into the whale and shouted, "Lose this whale and you lose me!" He stayed aboard as two crew members swam under the whale, grabbed the line, and reconnected it.

That was not the end of the problems. Richard Basehart, who played Ishmael, broke his foot jumping into a whaleboat, Leo Genn, the Irish actor portraying first mate Starbuck, slipped a disc in his back and Gregory Peck not only injured his kneecap hobbling about on his peg leg, but was also nearly lost at sea and came close to drowning twice. Meanwhile the Irish Sea, doubling for the New England coast, suffered through one of its stormiest seasons ever.

Huston's quest for the perfect film of Moby Dick chewed up writers, cast and crew, strangely mirroring Ahab's own search. Perhaps it gave Huston a way of looking into the mad captain's soul. The result of all that pain and torment yielded the most accurate and probably the quintessential movie version of Melville's book. Other versions include a 1930 adaptation starring John Barrymore that works in an improbable romance between Ahab and a parson's daughter and a 1998 TV version featuring Patrick Stewart as the whale obsessed captain.

Producer: John Huston, Vaughan N. Dean
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Ray Bradbury, John Huston, based on the novel by Herman Melville
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Film Editing: Russell Lloyd
Art Direction: Ralph W. Brinton
Music: Philip Sainton
Cast: Gregory Peck (Captain Ahab), Richard Basehart (Ishmael), Leo Genn (Starbuck), James Robertson Justice (Captain Boomer), Harry Andrews (Stubb), Bernard Miles (The Manxman), Noel Purcell (Ship¿s Carpenter).
C-115m. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady
Moby Dick (1956)

Moby Dick (1956)

To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee! - Captain Ahab The story of a sea captain, obsessed with the white whale that took his leg, became an obsession in its own way for one of Hollywood's greatest directors. John Huston read Herman Melville's Moby Dick when he was sixteen and had dreamed of making a film of it as soon as he began directing The Maltese Falcon (1941). Huston saw his father Walter Huston as the perfect Ahab and after John and his father received Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor respectively for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a chance to make their big-budget adaptation became a reality. Then, in 1950, Walter suddenly died of an aneurysm and John was forced to find another Ahab. Gregory Peck became Huston's new choice through a chance meeting at a Hollywood party. Peck was not sure he was right for the role, in fact, he always thought John Huston would have done a better job. However, Peck's box office draw delighted Warner Brothers who seconded Huston's choice. Still, some critics disliked Peck's performance, but the director always thought he conveyed the exact quality he wanted for the obsessed seaman. "Here was a man who shook his fist at God," is how Huston described Ahab. To condense Melville's mammoth novel, Huston first turned to Anthony Veiller (The Stranger, 1946, The Killers, 1946). However, after a falling out with the screenwriter over his previous film Beat the Devil (1953), Huston turned to Ray Bradbury, a writer then known only for science-fiction books like The Martian Chronicles (1950). Bradbury had come to Huston's attention after sending fan letters to the director, begging for a chance to work with him. They were fan letters Bradbury probably came to regret as their collaboration became combative and ultimately provoked a lawsuit over screen credit. After Bradbury left, Roald Dahl and John Goldley made uncredited additions to the script. The shoot was no calmer. A ninety-foot model of the great white whale was built for $30,000. A tug pulled it out into the Irish Sea and, after two shots were completed, the towline snapped and the whale quickly sank. A second whale was built on a barge but a storm also sank it without a trace. Finally a third whale was built and again the towline snapped. Huston had had enough. He climbed into the whale and shouted, "Lose this whale and you lose me!" He stayed aboard as two crew members swam under the whale, grabbed the line, and reconnected it. That was not the end of the problems. Richard Basehart, who played Ishmael, broke his foot jumping into a whaleboat, Leo Genn, the Irish actor portraying first mate Starbuck, slipped a disc in his back and Gregory Peck not only injured his kneecap hobbling about on his peg leg, but was also nearly lost at sea and came close to drowning twice. Meanwhile the Irish Sea, doubling for the New England coast, suffered through one of its stormiest seasons ever. Huston's quest for the perfect film of Moby Dick chewed up writers, cast and crew, strangely mirroring Ahab's own search. Perhaps it gave Huston a way of looking into the mad captain's soul. The result of all that pain and torment yielded the most accurate and probably the quintessential movie version of Melville's book. Other versions include a 1930 adaptation starring John Barrymore that works in an improbable romance between Ahab and a parson's daughter and a 1998 TV version featuring Patrick Stewart as the whale obsessed captain. Producer: John Huston, Vaughan N. Dean Director: John Huston Screenplay: Ray Bradbury, John Huston, based on the novel by Herman Melville Cinematography: Oswald Morris Film Editing: Russell Lloyd Art Direction: Ralph W. Brinton Music: Philip Sainton Cast: Gregory Peck (Captain Ahab), Richard Basehart (Ishmael), Leo Genn (Starbuck), James Robertson Justice (Captain Boomer), Harry Andrews (Stubb), Bernard Miles (The Manxman), Noel Purcell (Ship¿s Carpenter). C-115m. Closed captioning. by Brian Cady

Quotes

To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.
- Starbuck, first mate
Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the molding of their features. The white whale tasks me; he heaps me. Yet he is but a mask. 'Tis the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate; the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began; the thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung.
- Captain Ahab
Ehhhh, you can't fool us; it's the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he's got a great secret in him.
- Ishmael
I have, lad, I have. At sea one day, you'll smell land where there'll be no land, and on that day Ahab will go to his grave, but he'll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all--all save one shall follow. (Slinking away with a smile on his face) Mornin', lads... mornin'. May the heavens bless you.
- Elijah
By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.
- Captain Ahab
It's late; you should turn in.
- Starbuck, first mate
Sleep? That bed is a coffin, and those are winding sheets. I do not sleep, I die.
- Captain Ahab
He did not feel the wind, or smell the salt air. He only stood, staring at the horizon, with the marks of some inner crucifixion and woe deep in his face.
- Ishmael

Trivia

The character of Peter Coffin, the innkeeper, played by Joseph Tomelty, was dubbed by director 'Huston, John' .

The fake white whale used in the film kept sinking, breaking, etc., which meant that it had to be continuously rebuilt, leading to budget overruns and schedule delays.

John Huston shopped the film around Hollywood for three years before Warner agreed to produce it. It was a dark, depressing story, without any female parts or love interest, so Hollywood shunned the screenplay. Warner only agreed on the condition that a big name actor take the role of Ahab. Many thought Gregory Peck was miscast, and Peck himself actually thought 'Huston, John' would have been the best choice for the role.

Ray Bradbury's "Green Shadows, White Whale" is a semi-fictional account of his writing of the screenplay.

Notes

The title card reads: "Herman Melville's Moby Dick." John Huston's onscreen director credit reads: "Produced and directed by John Huston who wishes to express his sincere thanks to The Mystic Seaport Marine Historical Association, The Old Dartmouth Historical Society, The British Institute of Oceanography and the Whalermen of Madeira for the great help they gave." The voice-over narration of Richard Basehart, who portrays "Ishmael," is heard intermittently throughout the film. After the opening credits, Basehart's narration begins with the famous opening words from Melville's novel: "Call me Ishmael."
       Although modern editions of Melville's work, which is now considered a classic of American literature, are titled simply Moby Dick, the original 1851 edition was called Moby-Dick; or: The Whale. Warner Bros. had made three previous films based on the book, two starring John Barrymore as "Capt. Ahab." The 1926 silent film, The Sea Beast, was directed by Millard Webb, and a 1930 production, Moby Dick, was directed by Lloyd Bacon. The studio also made a German-language version of the 1930 film entitled Dämon des Meeres, which was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred Wilhelm Dieterle and Lissy Arna (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). These films portrayed Ahab competing with a duplicitous brother for the hand of a minister's daughter and settling down happily with the woman after killing both the whale and his brother. Also, unlike the 1956 film, those films explored Ahab's first encounter with Moby Dick, when the whale "crippled him in mind and body."
       In a November 1955 Los Angeles Times article, Huston stated that he tried to make the film "very faithful to the spirit of Melville's novel." In the 1956 version, Ahab has no romantic interest and women appear briefly only in the New Bedford sequences near the beginning of the film. Although Huston's intention, according to a September 1946 Los Angeles Times news item, was for the script to follow the book more closely, the story had to be telescoped and condensed into two hours, thus he eliminated the character "Fedallah," who was Ahab's servant in the book, and merged the character with that of "Queequeg." The film's sequence in which Ishmael convinces Queequeg not to commit suicide by reminding him of the promise he gave of lasting friendship is not in the book. As noted in the Saturday Review (of Literature) review, in the film, Queequeg's coffin was built at his request, because he had a sense of foreboding. In the book, however, it was built because Queequeg was near death from a fever. According to a modern source, Huston placed the final battle between Ahab and the whale at Bikini Atoll, where, in the 1950s, a century after the novel's setting, the atomic bomb was tested. According to the source, there is no evidence in the book that Melville's story was set at that location.
       Huston's Moby Dick had a long production history: In September 1946, according to the Los Angeles Times news item, Warner Bros. announced that Henry Blanke would produce a new version of Moby Dick using Huston's screenplay. According to modern sources, Warner Bros. agreed to the film on the stipulation that a "big name" was cast in the lead role. A March 1949 Daily Variety news item announced that Errol Flynn was being considered as the "successor" to Barrymore for the role of Ahab, and also named Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne and Gregory Peck as being under consideration. A February 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Marlon Brando would star, and a March 1954 New York Times news item reported that Montgomery Clift was interested in the role of Ishmael. According to September 1946 and November 1955 Los Angeles Times news items, Huston's personal choice for that role had been his father Walter, who died in 1950.
       Warner Bros. failed to re-register the title and temporarily dropped plans to make the film upon learning that six other companies had priority over Warner Bros. for the property, a June 1953 Variety news item later reported. December 1952 news items announced that Warner Bros. would release the production being financed by Eliot Hyman, who also backed Huston's 1953 Moulin Rouge . According to modern sources, brothers Harold and Marvin Mirisch also put up money from Moulin Rouge profits and Warner Bros. agreed to provide money in return for worldwide distribution rights. News items announced at this time that Peck had been cast as Ahab and that shooting would begin in France in 1953. A July 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Marvin Mirisch, vice-president of Moulin Productions, announced that production on the film would begin in 1953 in England. In February 1954, the involvement in the film of Associated British Pictures was announced by Alfred Crown, Moulin's president, in a Hollywood Reporter news item.
       A September 1953 Daily Variety news item announced that science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury would write the screenplay and that his family would sail to Europe where he would work on the script with Huston. According to a modern source, Bradbury and Huston met after Bradbury, an admirer of Huston's films, sent an inscribed copy of his book The Martian Chronicles to Huston, who then discussed the idea of filming that story. Huston and Bradbury continued to correspond, and Bradbury would send copies of his newly published works. When Huston offered Bradbury the opportunity to write the script for Moby Dick, the author had approximately twelve hours to decide whether to write what would be his first screenplay. The modern source adds that Bradbury, after consenting, read the book for the first time on the sea voyage-he had a fear of flying-during which he experienced a hurricane.
       Both Bradbury and Huston are credited onscreen with the screenplay. A modern source adds that Roald Dahl and John Raymond Godley, Lord Kilbracken, did some reworking of the script. According to a modern source, Huston considered Kilbracken, who was his neighbor in Ireland and not an actor, for the role of Ishmael and a December 1953 Variety news item reported that Kilbracken was planning to come to Hollywood for a screen test. Modern sources report that Kilbracken played one of the sailors in the film and was Basehart's stand-in at one point during the production.
       According to a November 1955 Daily Variety article, shooting of background material began in late spring 1954. A September 1956 American Cinematographer article reported that location shooting began in July 1954 in Youghal, Ireland, the town used to portray New Bedford, MA, where the harbor departure sequences were filmed. According to an August 1954 New York Times article, the town's "rundown" harbor had to be dredged to allow the ship used as the story's Pequod to be able to enter. Fishing sequences were shot off the coast of Fishguard, Wales, according to various contemporary sources. According to contemporary news items, English actors and Welsh and Madeira Island fishermen played the whalers.
       The actor and Austrian count Frederich Ledebur, who, according to modern sources, was a fellow sportsman and friend of Huston, appeared in the film as "Queequeg." Modern sources state that Ledebur was not told beforehand that his head would be shaved for the role. A modern source adds that Ledebur's wife, Iris Tree, appeared in the film as the woman who gives Bibles to the sailors.
       The Variety review misspells Ledebur's character name as "Queenqueg" and, in the cast, erroneously lists "Peter Coffin as Tavern Owner." The character "Peter Coffin" was the owner of the "Spouter Inn" tavern, and was played by actor Joseph Tomelty, whose name was omitted from the Variety cast list. Although a June 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Robert Morley was cast, he did not appear in the picture. A March 1954 New York Times article reported that James Hayter was cast as "Flask" and that Francis de Wolff would play Peter Coffin; however, de Wolff was cast in the film as "Capt. Gardiner," Dublin drama critic Seamus Kelly portrayed "Flask," and Hayter did not appear in the film.
       A modern source adds Arthur Mullard and A. L. Bert Lloyd to the cast. Modern sources also add the following people to the crew: Alfred Kirschner (post-synchronization director), Ernst Haas (stills photographer); Bob Penn (stills and publicity photographer), Jean-Pierre Steimer (assistant editor), Jeanie Sims (Huston's production assistant), and Lorrie Sherwood (Huston's secretary).
       In October 1954, Variety and New York Times articles announced that bad weather and cast injuries had caused shooting delays. To these problems, a modern source adds that damage to the ship serving as the Pequod also caused delays, and the schedule was set back by three months. Moulin Productions increased the budget by $1,000,000 to extend players' contracts and allow the troupe to move to a warmer area off the coast of Madeira, Spain, where background shots had already been filmed. A June 1956 Los Angeles Times article reported that whaling sequences and much of the storm sequences were shot there. A November 1954 Variety news item reported that, because scenes to be filmed called for several cast members to be immersed in the ocean for long periods, the company would instead film in waters off of South Africa. No other mention of this location has been found. According to several contemporary articles and news items, final winter shooting was completed in the waters around Las Palmas, Canary Islands. A March 1955 New York Times article reported that the filming of the sequences during which the whale was killed and Ishmael floats on the coffin were shot there.
       Despite Huston's wish to film everything at sea, the company then moved to Elstree studios for its final few weeks shooting close-up action sequences. There, a replica of the Pequod's deck was built and, according to the American Cinematographer article, cameras were hung from the studio roof, where they were swung to get the motion of a ship in a storm. The sequence of Ahab lashed to the whale was shot in a tank in the studio and the interior of the whalemen's chapel, in which actor Orson Welles as "Father Mapple" appears, were also shot at Elstree.
       For the ship Pequod, Huston found a one-hundred-year-old, three-masted, topsail schooner, the Rylands, at Scarborough, England. According to a December 1954 New York Times article, the ship, which was then being used as a tourist attraction, had served as the Hispaniola in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In the 1800s, the Rylands carried coal and other goods from Newcastle to other parts of the British Isles. In keeping with Melville's novel, Huston had the ship refitted with a tiller made from the skull of a killer whale and a jawbone of a sperm whale. While the actors and crew filmed topside, a crew of real sailors, captained by Allan Villiers, controlled the ship from below.
       The whale "Moby Dick" was an 85-foot-long, steel-reinforced, rubberized construction, according to a March 1955 Los Angeles Times article, which added that a partial whale was constructed for the close-up scenes shot at Elstree. According to modern sources, even though two full models were made, costing approximately $30,000 each, both were lost at sea during shooting, necessitating a third to be built for the sequences shot in the Canary Islands. Modern sources add that another near-disaster happened when the towline of the third whale broke during filming and sailed into a fog with Peck on its back. According to the Los Angeles Times article, during filming Peck, who did not use a double, injured his kneecap, Basehart broke his ankle while jumping into a longboat and British actor Leo Genn, who portrayed "Starbuck" in the film, slipped a disk and caught pneumonia before shooting had finished.
       According to the American Cinematographer article, Huston and director of photographer Oswald Morris agreed that "an orthodox modern [color] style would be at odds with the film's period mood and subject matter." Morris was quoted as saying that "what we wanted was something which suggested that this is how the film would have been shot if it could have been made in 1840-a classic color style to match a classic original." To accomplish their vision, according to Warner Bros. studio production notes, the film was shot in Technicolor from which two negatives were made, a color and a black-and-white. The final print was made from the two negatives superimposed over each other.
       The article added that, according to Morris, the process had been done for books and magazines, but never before for film, and it "toned down" the Technicolor to achieve a 19th century look and a certain mood. Although a February 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that there were plans to film in CinemaScope, and the Hollywood Reporter review and Colliers article listed the film as a CinemaScope production, the process was not credited onscreen. The Motion Picture Herald review stated that the film "was not photographed expressly for wide screen exhibition" and the distributor was recommending that "it be shown with an aspect ratio no greater than 1.75 to 1."
       The New York Times review "devoutly recommended [Moby Dick] as one of the great motion pictures of our time" and the Motion Picture Herald review considered "Ahab" one of the best performances of Peck's career. Comparing Peck's Ahab with Barrymore's, the Hollywood Reporter review reported, "whereas Barrymore enacted the role with fiery hatred and a certain amount of swashbuckling, Peck plays it more in a brooding smoldering vein, but none the less intensely and dynamically." Peck, who appeared in the film bearded and wearing a tall hat, was often compared with Abraham Lincoln in reviews. The New York Times review described him as "towering, gaunt...markedly Lincolnesque," but the Variety review criticized that "the star not infrequently suggests a melancholy Abe Lincoln."
       Other reviewers found Peck's performance lacking, such as a November 1956 Film and Filming, which criticized that "the handicap of being too young for Ahab undermines our belief [in Peck's performance]." Huston, in his autobiography, felt that contemporary audiences were expecting an Ahab like Barrymore's and predicted that "the next generation will appreciate it more than the last."
       In his autobiography, Huston wrote that Moby Dick was "the most difficult picture I ever made." The film cost over $4.5 million and took three years to produce, which, as pointed out by a modern source, was longer than Ahab's quest for the whale. Although the New York Film Critics and the Motion Picture National Board of Review each cited Huston as Best Director for that year, the film was a box-office disappointment.
       In 1954, NBC-TV broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, Moby Dick, which was produced and directed by Albert McCleery and starred Victor Jory and Hugh O'Brian. In 1998, Franc Roddam directed a television film, Moby Dick, starring Patrick Stewart and Henry Thomas, and featuring Peck as "Father Mapple." Although a 2001 Fox News online site reported that Brian Helgeland had written a screenplay of Moby Dick, in which he intended to cast actors from his 2001 film, A Knight's Tale, as of June 2005 that project had not come to fruition.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Director (Huston), Best Actor (Basehart), and One of the Year's Best American Films by the 1956 National Board of Review.

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the New York Times Film Critics.

Released in United States Summer June 1956

Released in United States March 1980

Released in United States Summer June 1956

Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Epic: A Monumental Movie Marathon) March 4-21, 1980.)

Voted Best Director (Huston) by the 1956 New York Film Critics Association.