Costly weather and production delays on location in Ireland and elsewhere enlarged the bring-home price on John Huston’s Moby Dick to as high as $5 million.
Moby Dick is interesting more often than exciting, faithful to the time and text [of the Herman Melville novel] more than great theatrical entertainment. Essentially it is a chase picture and yet not escaping the sameness and repetitiousness which often dulls the chase formula.
It was astute of Huston to work out a print combining color and black-and-white calculated to capture the sombre beauties of New Bedford, circa 1840, and its whaling ways.
Orson Welles appears early and briefly as a local New Bedford preacher who delivers a God-fearing sermon on Jonah and the whale. Welles turns in an effective bit of brimstone exhortation, appropriate to time and place.
Gregory Peck hovers above the crew, grim-faced and hate-obsessed. He wears a stump leg made of the jaw of a whale and he lives only to kill the greatest whale of all, the white-hided super-monster, Moby Dick, the one which had chewed off his leg. Peck’s Ahab is not very ‘elemental’. It is not that he fails in handling the rhetoric. Actually he does quite well with the stylized speech in which Melville wrote and which Ray Bradbury and Huston have preserved in their screenplay. It’s just that Peck often seems understated and much too gentlemanly for a man supposedly consumed by insane fury.