Departing significantly from Herman Melville's classic novel, this Lloyd Bacon-directed film again stars John Barrymore as Ahab, the role he played in the silent THE SEA BEAST (1926). In this version, Barrymore and evil stepbrother Lloyd Hughes battle over the affections of a preacher's
daughter (Joan Bennett). On a whaling voyage, Barrymore is shoved overboard by Hughes and loses his leg to the great white whale. With his stump cauterized on the ship, Barrymore returns home, but Bennett recoils from him, convincing the peg-legged sea captain that she no longer loves him.
Obsessed with killing Moby Dick, Barrymore searches for the whale for seven years before he finally kills his huge nemesis and returns to New Bedford and Bennett. Owing to its ludicrous plot (complete with an evil stepbrother right out of 19th-century melodrama) and an awful special-effects whale
(a life-sized rubber model that is nonetheless more convincing than its silent predecessor, a bar of soap hurriedly carved by a technician when an expensive mechanical whale sank on its first trial), this version of MOBY DICK hasn't survived the passage of time very well. However, Barrymore's
performance alone makes the film worth watching. Contributing a portrayal of Ahab that is more subtle than his work in the silent version, the actor still manages to effectively convey the madness at the root of Ahab's obsession. Although Barrymore wanted his then-wife Dolores Costello to take the
female lead, her pregnancy prevented it, and Bennett, the daughter of an old friend of Barrymore's from the New York stage, was tapped for the role. Despite the fact that Bennett had known Barrymore since she was a child, the young actress was still reportedly intimidated by both the great actor's
awesome talent and his reputation for alcoholic excess.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Departing significantly from Herman Melville's classic novel, this Lloyd Bacon-directed film again stars John Barrymore as Ahab, the role he played in the silent THE SEA BEAST (1926). In this version, Barrymore and evil stepbrother Lloyd Hughes battle over… (more)