Monday, April 29, 2013

"Moby Dick" with Gregory Peck (1956)

Many people over the years have asked why Moby Dick is an essential part of American literature. I’m always amazed at the question, since the story is not only a biblical analogy of good versus evil in the most classic sense; but also a uniquely American story; written by Herman Melville, one of our nation’s first native born authors of note, and a former sailor to boot.

In addition it is also a thinly disguised political tale which centers about the killing of a white whale. This whale represents the evil of the white race. Indeed that evil, embodied by the whale, had already cost Ahab a portion of his body, just as the coming Civil War would cost the nation a portion of its own. The righteousness of the Abolitionist Movement; when juxtaposed against the evil restrictions of slavery; both resemble the destruction wrought by Moby Dick, as Ahab and his fellow human beings attempt to destroy an evil which they themselves have created.

I’m not the biggest fan of any film version of this classic novel, as nothing could ever live up to the imagery and tension of the book. And, I’m not a snob in that respect. I do believe some books are better presented as movies; not often; but sometimes. A good example would be Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not”, which sucked in book form, but when re-written for the screen, shone like the sun. But, if you have to watch any version of Moby Dick, then this is the one which I recommend the most.

From the acting to the direction, and the short appearance by Orson Welles as the Preacher, this movie does the novel some justice. Although it appears to have been made cheaply, if you ignore the sets and concentrate on the acting, then you will be quite satisfied with this screen adaptation.

A few of the original monologues have been excised, or altered in some form, but that does not really hurt the overall message which Melville was trying to impart. Basically, good; when taken too far; can become as evil as that which you are trying to destroy; and in the end, you wind up destroying only yourself. That’s heavy stuff, but true. And, by the way, I still don’t know what it is about this book that turns people off. 

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