Moby Dick (1956 Film) - Production

Production

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.

Huston had always wanted to make a film of Moby-Dick, and wanted to cast his father Walter as Ahab. Unfortunately, Walter had died in 1950, before the film was financed. The film was bankrolled by brothers Walter, Harold, and Marvin Mirisch, who financed Huston's Moulin Rouge. The Mirisches made a deal with Warner Bros. in order to release the film. Under the agreement, Warners would distribute Moby Dick for seven years, after which all rights would revert to the Mirisch brothers' company, Moulin Productions.

The film began shooting in Wales at Huston's request. Parts of the movie were shot at the sea in front of Caniçal, a traditional whaling parish in Madeira Islands, Portugal, with real action of whaling, done by whalers of Madeira Island. It was also filmed in Las Canteras beach, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.

Many exterior scenes set in New Bedford were shot on location in Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland. The town has a Public house, originally called Linehan's, and at that time owned by Paddy Linehan. Some of the bar's exterior appears in the movie. It was renamed Moby Dick's shortly after filming by Mr. Linehan. It is still owned and run by the Linehan family and boasts a fine collection of photographs taken of the cast and crew during the making of the film. While there, John Huston used the bar as his headquarters to plan each day's filming. The town's harbor basin, in front of Moby Dick's bar, was used to stand in as New Bedford's harbor, and some local people appear as extras in the ship's departure scene. Youghal's nineteenth century lighthouse also appears in a scene of the Pequod putting to sea (at sunset) on her fateful voyage.

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 "navigational hazards". In fact the titular whale shown in the film was constructed by Dunlop in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Moby Dick was 75ft long and weighed 12 tons, and required 80 drums of compressed air and a hydraulic system in order to remain afloat and operational. However the artificial whale came loose from its tow-line and drifted away in a fog. Peck confirmed that he was aboard the prop in May, 1995, when he spoke at the Barter Theatre in Virginia. According to Morris, after the prop was lost the Pequod was followed by a barge with various whale parts (hump, back, fin, tail). 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 a 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).

The film's problems were further escalated by rising costs. The film went overbudget, from $2 million to around $4.4 million, which crippled Moulin Productions; Moby Dick was ultimately sold to United Artists in order to recoup some of the Mirisch brothers' debt (Warners still distributed the film, corresponding to their original licensing agreement). Moby Dick did not recoup its budget upon its initial release.

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 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, quoted in Lawrence Grobel's biography The Hustons, rebuked Peck ("It was too late to start over," said Huston) 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.

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