Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Moby Dick (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Moby Dick (1956)

In director John Huston's stirring adventure film about a monstrous great white whale:

  • the opening sequence, following closely to Herman Melville's original tale - the arrival of young sailor Ishmael (Richard Basehart) in the whaling town of New Bedford in 1841, in voice-over, as he proceeded downhill to the Spouter Inn: ("Call me Ishmael. Some years ago, having little or no money, I thought I would sail about and see the oceans of the world. Whenever I get grim and spleenful, whenever I feel like knocking people's hats off in the street, whenever it's a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I know that it's high time to get to sea again. Choose any path you please and ten to one, it carries you down to water. There's a magic in water that draws all men away from the land, leads them over the hills, down creeks, and streams and rivers to the sea. The sea - where each man, as in a mirror, finds himself. And so it was I duly arrived at the town of New Bedford on a stormy Saturday late in the year 1841")
  • the scene of Father Mapple's (Orson Welles) long, stirring, ranting sermon about the battle of good vs. evil in the soul of man, with nautical metaphors, reference to St. Paul, and inspiration from the Biblical whale tale of Jonah, ending with the words: ("...Jonah did the Almighty's bidding. And what was that, Shipmates? TO PREACH THE TRUTH IN THE FACE OF FALSEHOOD. Now Shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled waters when God has brewed them into a gale. Yea, woe to him who, as the Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway. But delight is to him who against the proud gods and commodores of this Earth stands forth his own inexorable self, who destroys all sin, though he pluck it out from under the robes of senators and judges! And Eternal Delight shall be his, who coming to lay him down can say:- O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be thine, more than to be this world's or mine own, yet this is nothing, I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?")
  • the sailing departure from Nantucket of the Pequod for its whaling expedition
  • one-legged Captain Ahab's (Gregory Peck) entrance and first appearance before his crew (with the narrator's voice-over description) - "Looming straight up and over us, like a solid iron figurehead suddenly thrust into our vision stood Captain Ahab. His whole, high, broad form weighed down upon a barbaric white leg carved from the jawbone of a whale. He did not feel the wind or smell the salt air. He only stood staring at the horizon with the marks of some inner crucifixion and woe deep in his face"
Captain Ahab's Entrance
Description of Prey
Toast Proposed by Ahab: "The Measure. Drink and Pass"
  • the subsequent scene of Ahab's description of their prey, a great white whale, to the curious crew; he offered a "Spanish gold ounce" to the one who sighted the whale first ("You're to look for a white whale. A whale as white and as big as a mountain of snow...Whosoever of ye finds me that white whale, ye shall have this Spanish gold ounce, my boys! It's a white whale, I say. Skin your eyes for him")
  • and then Ahab described more about the whale and how it had taken off his leg years earlier; the crew toasted their objective - to bring "Death to Moby Dick": ("He's struck full of harpoons, men. And his spout is a big one, like a whole shock of wheat. And he fantails like a broken jib in a storm. Death, men, you've seen him. It's Moby Dick....Aye. It was Moby Dick that tore my soul and body until they bled into each other. Aye. I'll follow him around the Horn and around the Norway Maelstrom and around Perdition's flames before I give him up. This is what you've shipped for, men. To chase that white whale on both sides of land and over all sides of earth until he spouts black blood and rolls dead out. What say ye? I think you do look brave. Will ya splice hands on it?...Steward, go draw the great measure of grog. Harpooneers, get your weapons. Mates, your lances. Ye mariners, now ring me in that I may revive a noble custom of my fisherman fathers. The measure. Drink and pass. Round with it, round. Quick draughts, long swallows, men. It's hot as Satan's hoof. That way it went, this way it comes. It spiralizes in ye. Here, hand it me. Well done. Almost drained. Advance, mates. Cross your lances. Now, let me touch the axis. Do you feel it? That same lightning which struck me, I now strike to this iron. Does it burn, men? Does it burn? Harpooneers, break your weapons. Turn up the sockets. Drink here, harpooneers, drink and swear. God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death" - Crew: "Death to Moby Dick!")
  • Captain Ahab's eloquent monologue to shipmate Starbuck (Leo Genn), about how he began hunting whales forty years earlier as a "boy harpooner" and his relentless, obsessive search every since to pursue the great white whale Moby Dick: ("Why this madness of the chase, this boiling blood and smoking brow? Why palsy the arm at the oar, the iron, the lance? I feel old, Starbuck, and bowed. As though I were Adam staggering under the piled centuries since paradise....What is it? What nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing commands me against all human lovings and longings to keep pushing and crowding and jamming myself on all the time, making me do what in my own natural heart I dare not dream of doing? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it l, God, or Who that lifts this arm? But if the great sun cannot move except by God's invisible power, how can my small heart beat, my brain think thoughts, unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not l? By heavens, man, we are turned round and round in this world. Like yonder windlass and fate is the handspike. And all the time, that smiling sky and this unsounded sea. Look ye into its deeps and see the everlasting slaughter that goes on. Who put it into its creatures to chase and fang one another? Where do murderers go, man? Who's to doom when the judge himself is dragged before the bar?")
  • Starbuck's expression of the inevitability of their pre-determined fate, if he couldn't end Ahab's life with one gunshot, and his trembling before Ahab: ("Because I do not have the bowels to slaughter thee and save the whole ship's company from being dragged to doom. Oh, I plainly see my miserable office: to obey, or rebelling. Worse still, to help thee to thine impious end"); Ahab confirmed that they were close to the white whale: ("Starbuck, ye are tied to me. This act is immutably decreed. It was rehearsed by ye and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. The air. Do you smell it, lads, what the wind carries?...Aye. A coral reef, green moss, shells, bits and pieces from all the oceans he ever swam through. An island to himself is the white whale") shortly before there was the cry: ("Thar she blows!")
  • the thrilling sequence of Ahab's final encounter with the great white whale as he became entangled in the harpoon ropes wrapping around the mortally-wounded creature, while stabbing it to death: ("From hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee, thou damned whale!"); the sailors watched as the whale surfaced, and saw that the dead Ahab's loose arm was signaling to them: "You see? Do you see? Ahab beckons. He's dead, but he beckons"; they saw the monstrous whale return to the Pequod to sink it in a maelstrom whirlpool
  • the final voice-over by Ishmael, who was rescued by surviving on Queequeg's coffin, and was later saved by another vessel - he was the only one to tell the tale of what had happened: ("Drowned Queequeg's coffin was my life buoy. For one whole day and night, it sustained me on that soft and dirge-like main. Then a sail appeared. It was the Rachel. The Rachel, who in her long melancholy search for her missing children found another orphan. The drama's done. All are departed away. The great shroud of the sea rolls over the Pequod, her crew and Moby Dick. I only am escaped, alone to tell thee")

Ishmael's Opening Voice-Over Sequence

Father Mapple's Sermon

The Sailing of the Pequod

Captain Ahab's Monologue About Crazed Quest with Starbuck

Ahab's Obsessive Quest

Encounter with the Great White Whale

Ahab - Stabbing at Whale with Harpoon

Ahab Entangled in Ropes Around Moby Dick - Beckoning the Sailors to Continue the Quest After His Death

Ishmael's Salvation on Queequeg's Floating Coffin


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