Screenplay by Ray Bradbury and John Huston, from the novel by Herman Melville
Directed by John Huston
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn, Orson Welles.
Critical opinions on this film are mixed. In some areas it is a definite success - much of the production design and the look of the photography - but in other areas it is weak. To many viewers, Gregory Peck is miscast as Ahab. The whale effects look quite cheap at times, although Harlan Ellison has observed that the film looks better on television than in a cinema.
In many ways, though, this film and its production were pivotal to the career and writings of Ray Bradbury. Although he had written for the screen before, this was his first major screenwriting assignment. It was the first time he worked with a major Hollywood director.
Bradbury lived in Ireland during the writing of the film, and his experiences provided him with a rich seam of story material for many years. His "Irish stories" would eventually be "fixed-up" into a novel, Green Shadows, White Whale. This work attempts to link together a series of tall tales with a clear autobiographical account of the making of the movie.
Bradbury has frequently referred to a breakthrough moment in his development of the screenplay; a time when he suddenly felt that he understood Melville's world as Melville himself did. After this epiphany, the screenplay "wrote itself". His account of this in Green Shadows alone makes the novel worth reading. And naturally, one really must see the film before reading the novel.
A second impact
on Bradbury's writings came with Leviathan
99, which first appeared as a radio play in the 1960s; this
can glibly be described as Moby
It was while preparing for Moby Dick that Bradbury met Jack Clayton, a successful if not prolific British film director. Bradbury was with Huston in London in October 1953, when Huston and Clayton, his associate producer, were finishing work on Beat the Devil. Bradbury and Clayton became friends, and nearly thirty years later they would work together on the film of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
It isn't completely clear who wrote which parts of Moby Dick. Draft screenplays for the film have never been published. Bradbury and Huston share credit, which may tend to suggest that Bradbury wrote the script and Huston then changed it to suit his directorial needs. In a 1972 interview Bradbury said that the entire script was his, and that he successfully challenged (via the Writer's Guild of America) Huston's attempt to take primary script credit - although Huston appealled, and won.
Charles Higham (and others) attribute Orson Welles' showpiece Father Mapple sermon to Welles himself:
For several months Huston and...Bradbury...had been preparing the scene of Father Mapple's favourite sermon, which Huston had decided to shoot in a studio in London. Neither Bradbury nor Huston was completely satisfied with the final draft. Welles was in Paris that fall...and Huston flew there with the script and told Welles the Mapple scene was note absolutely perfect. Welles worked on it over a weekend, made it into a brilliant sequence, then flew to London for the three days of filming.
Today, the film is definitely watchable, and probably hasn't aged quite as much as other effects-dependent films of its era. Other attempts have been made to film Moby Dick, but none have worked as well as Bradbury and Huston's version.