Moby Dick (1930)

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Bears a nodding acquaintance with the book of the same name by Herman Melville

Moby Dick as you’ve never seen it before!…with good reason, I think.

“Call me Ishmael.” Now, that has got to be one of the most famous opening lines in Western literary history, along with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and “It was a dark and stormy night.”

And yet. In their infinite wisdom, the writers of this movie decided that sticking to the actual plotline of so famous a work was simply not something they wished to do. Here’s a tip: as in Bleak House, if you are going to film a book, try not to stomp all over one of the most famous works in the English language, because all anyone will care about is that you rewrote it, and all they will want to say is what a bad job you did and how stupid you were to even think of doing it.

And this reviewer is no exception.

Ahab Creely (yes, Captain Ahab has a last name in this movie, I guess because he’s no longer a symbolic figure or something) is played by John Barrymore, and is a philandering drunken wastrel, typecasting if ever I saw it. It was hard in many scenes to tell if Barrymore was playing a drunk or simply showed up for work that way. He helps out Queequeg in a local tavern when the ignorant townsfolk take Q’s small portable idol away from him and they become friends.

Then after many vicissitudes at sea, girl trouble (of course they’ve written a girl part into this, duh! Joan Bennett, kinda cute) and rivalry with Ahab’s brother Derek (Derek? DEREK? Oh, please give me a break….) Ahab (who by this point has, of course, lost a leg and must go through many emotional traumas and Learn Lessons) kills the Great White Whale (here, a gray whale with a white hump and nose…I’m not joking, it’s a model of a GRAY WHALE. Talk about rewriting famous stuff, sheesh! they must have had one around that they could use cheap. And why could they not paint it white? who knows? But I digress…)

So he kills the whale. Goes home. His girlfriend loves him even though he lost his leg. And we end on a happy note.

And my more astute readers will notice a big ol’ fat omission, on top of pretty much rewriting the whole plot: ISHMAEL IS NOT A CHARACTER IN THIS MOVIE.

And I don’t think I need to add any commentary to that, you probably get the idea perfectly well…the one interesting part is that this is one of the pre-code* movies, so it’s a little more risque than the movies became a few years later.

No-brainer: Mr. Otter claims that if you forget that it’s supposed to be somehow related to the EXTREMELY FAMOUS AND WELL BELOVED NOVEL Moby Dick, it’s actually a pretty good movie. I will let him say so without contradiction, since it’s just not worth the argument…

And by the way, this one is so obscure that I had to ask a friend to find a graphic for it, even IMDB didn’t have the poster. Thank you, Railroad David, for “enriching our lives” with this dog, and a hat tip to GATADD for providing the picture.

*The Hays Code was instituted in 1930, but had no teeth til 1934, when it fell on moviemakers like a ton of bricks. Here’s the text, and here’s Wikipedia’s article about the history of it.

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