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Moby Dick
Directed by John Huston
Produced by Associate producers:
Jack Clayton
Lee Katz
Vaughn N. Dean
John Huston
Written by Novel:
Herman Melville
Ray Bradbury
John Huston
Starring Gregory Peck
Richard Basehart
Leo Genn
Orson Welles
Royal Dano
Music by Philip Sainton
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Editing by Russell Lloyd
Distributed by Warner Bros. (1956)
AAP (1956-1958)
United Artists (1958-present)
MGM (1981-present) (Home Video)
Release date(s) June 27, 1956
Running time 116 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget US$ 4,500,000

Moby Dick is a 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick. It was directed by John Huston with a screenplay by Ray Bradbury and the director. The film starred Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, Richard Basehart as Ishmael, Leo Genn as Starbuck, Friedrich Ledebur as Queequeg, and Orson Welles as Father Mapple.

The music score was written by Philip Sainton.



Peck was initially surprised to be cast as Ahab (part of the studio's agreement to fund the film was that Huston use a "name" actor as Ahab). Peck later commented that he felt Huston himself should have played Ahab. Ironically, Huston had originally intended to cast his own father, the actor Walter Huston in the role, but his father had died by the time the film was made. Peck went on to play the role of Father Mapple in the 1998 television miniseries adaptation of Melville's novel, with Patrick Stewart as Ahab.

Welles' salary from his cameo was later used by him to fund his own stage production of Moby Dick, in which Rod Steiger played Captain Ahab.

The schooners used were Harvest King and James Postlethwaite, both registered in Arklow[1]


During a meeting to discuss the screenplay, Ray Bradbury informed John Huston that regarding Melville's novel, he had "never been able to read the damned thing". According to the biography The Bradbury Chronicles, there was much tension and anger between the two men during the making of the film, allegedly due to Huston's bullying attitude and attempts to tell Bradbury how to do his job, despite Bradbury being an accomplished writer. Bradbury's novel Green Shadows, White Whale includes a fictionalized version of his writing the screenplay with John Huston in Ireland. Bradbury's short story "Banshee" is another fictionalized account of what it was like to work with Huston on this film. In the television adaptation of the story for The Ray Bradbury Theater the Huston character was played by Peter O'Toole and the Bradbury surrogate by Charles Martin Smith.

The film was shot at Las Canteras beach, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Some exterior scenes set in New Bedford were shot on location in Youghal, Ireland.

Of the three film versions of Moby Dick made between 1926 and 1956, Huston's is the only one which is faithful to the novel and uses its original ending.

A myth that was put to rest in cinematographer Oswald Morris' autobiography, "Huston, We Have A Problem," is that no full length whale models were ever built for the production. Previous accounts have claimed that as many as three 60-foot rubber "white whales" were lost at sea during filming making them "navagational hazards." According to Morris, the Pequod was followed by a barge with various whale parts (hump, back, fin, tail). These were used as needed; and, indeed, one twenty foot cylinder section did come loose from its tow-line and drifted away in a fog. Morris does not say if Gregory Peck was aboard the prop, but the actor was as this has been corroborated by others involved in the production, and was confirmed by Peck in May, 1995, when he spoke at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. 90% of the shots of the white whale are various size miniatures filmed in a water tank in Shepperton Studios in London. Whales and longboat models were built by special effects man, August Lohman, working in conjunction with art director Stephen Grimes. Studio shots also included a life-size Moby jaw and head - with working eyes. The head apparatus which could move like a rocking horse was employed when actors were in the water with the whale. Gregory Peck's last speech is delivered in the studio while riding the white whale's hump (a hole was drilled in the side of the whale so Peck could conceal his real leg).

Peck and Huston intended to shoot Herman Melville's Typee in 1957, but the funding fell through. Not long after, the two had a falling out. According to one biography, Peck discovered to his disappointment, that he had not been Huston's choice for Ahab; but in fact, was thrust upon the director by the Mirisch brothers at Warner's to secure financing. Peck felt Huston had deceived him into taking a part for which Peck felt he was ill-suited. Years later, the actor tried to patch up his differences with the director, but Huston rebuked him and the two never spoke to each other again.

In the documentary accompanying the DVD marking the 30th anniversary of the film, Jaws, Director Steven Spielberg states his original intention had been to introduce the Ahab like character Quint, (Robert Shaw) by showing him watching the 1956 version of the film and laughing at the inaccuracies therein. However, permission to use footage of the original film was denied by Gregory Peck as he was uncomfortable with his performance.

As of 2008, Oswald Morris is the last surviving member of the film's first unit.

Film rights

This was originally a Warner Bros. release; however, this film (as well as the pre-1950[2][3] Warner library) ended up being sold to Associated Artists Productions, which later was sold to United Artists Television. This would eventually be the only film in the UATV package that would not end up with Turner Entertainment, and thus UA (via its parent company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) continues to own the U.S. rights to this film today with MGM Home Entertainment holding the home video rights. The international rights are with various other companies.

Changes from the original novel

Although the film was quite faithful to the original novel, even down to the retention of Melville's original poetic dialogue, there were several slight changes:

  • In the film, Elijah's prophecy: "A day will come at sea when you'll smell land and there'll be no land, and on that day, Ahab will go to his grave, but he'll rise again, and beckon, and all save one shall follow", foretells exactly what will happen to the Pequod and her crew in the film. In the book, Elijah does not make a prophecy, but subtly hints that something will happen.[4]
  • The demonic harpooneer Fedallah is totally omitted from the film. In the book, it is the dead Fedallah who ends up lashed to the back of Moby Dick,[4] but in the film, this happens to Ahab. In the novel, Ahab is merely dragged into the water by the harpoon rope and is never seen again.
  • In the film, when the dead Ahab "beckons" to the crew (an incident caused by the whale rolling back and forth while Ahab is tied to its back), Starbuck, who had previously bitterly opposed Ahab's quest for vengeance, is so moved by the sight that he becomes like a man possessed, and orders the crew to attack Moby Dick. This leads to the death of all except Ishmael, as the whale leaps on them in a fury. In the book, the ship and her crew are merely caught in a whirlpool caused by the whale, and, like Ahab, are dragged down to their deaths.


  1. ^ *Forde, Frank (1981, reprinted 2000). The Long Watch. Dublin: New Island Books. p. 138. ISBN 1 902602 42 0.  
  2. ^ You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (2008), p. 255.
  3. ^ WB retained a pair of features from 1949 that they merely distributed, and all short subjects released on or after September 1, 1948; in addition to all cartoons released in August 1948.
  4. ^ a b

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