Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Old Man and the Sea (1958)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Old Man and the Sea (1958)

In director John Sturges' (originally Fred Zinnemann's) dramatic adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway brief novel story about a fisherman off the coast of Cuba who struggled with a hooked marlin bigger than his boat - [Note: It was one of the first films to use a "bluescreen" compositing technology invented by Eastman Kodak engineer Arthur Widmer that combined actors on a soundstage with a pre-filmed background]:

  • the opening voice-over narration about the old Cuban fisherman/Narrator - Santiago (Spencer Tracy) - and his friendship with young boy Manolin (Felipe Pazos, Jr.), who was taught how to fish, but was forbidden to accompany the old man fishing because it was considered bad luck: ("He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone 84 days now without taking a fish. In the first 40 days, a boy had been with him. But after 40 days without a fish, the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. The old man had taught the boy to fish, and the boy loved him. The old man was gray and wrinkled, with deep furrows in the back of his neck, and his hands had the deep, creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert. Everything about him was old, except his eyes. And they were the same color as the sea, were cheerful and undefeated. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty. He always went down to help him carry the coiled lines, or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast...")
  • Santiago's discussions with Manolin about baseball (from newspaper reports), specifically the Yankees and Joe DiMaggio ("Sometime, I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing. They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was poor like we are, and he would understand")
  • Santiago's night-time dreams about Africa and lion cubs playing on the shore (images from his youth)
  • Santiago's inability to catch a fish in 84 days of fishing [Note: the sequences of marlin-fishing - "Some of the marlin film used in this picture was of the world's record catch by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. at the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club in Peru. Mr. Glassell acted as special advisor for these sequences"]
  • Santiago's speaking to a fish that he hooked that began to take out his line - it was a gigantic marlin that he had been trying to land over a period of three days and nights that was finally hooked on his 85th day of fishing: (voice-over) "Then he felt something hard and unbelievably heavy. It was the weight of the fish and he let the line slip down, down, down, unrolling off the first of the two reserve coils" - he then spoke to the fish about eating his bait: "This far out, he must be huge in this month. Eat them, fish. Eat them. Please eat them...He's taken it. Now let him eat it. Eat it good, now, fish. Go on, eat it. Eat it until the point of the hook goes into your heart and kills you, then come up nice and easy and let me put the harpoon into you...This will kill him. He can't keep this up forever" - over a period of many hours, the great fish towed the skiff out to sea
  • the old man began to suffer fatigue and bloody hands from the fishline: ("Certainly his back cannot feel as badly as mine does and he cannot pull this skiff forever, no matter how strong he is...I'm with a friend. Something hurt him. You're feeling it now, fish. And so, God knows, am I"); he marveled at the fish's size and ability: ("He's longer than the skiff. Oh, he's a great fish. Thank God they are not as intelligent as we who kill them. Although they are more noble and more able")
  • during his struggles with the great marlin, Santiago's memory of two days of arm-wrestling with a strong black dockworker (Don Blackman) in a Casablanca tavern: (voice-over) "He remembered the time in the tavern at Casablanca when he played the hand game with a Negro from Cienfuegos who was the strongest man on the docks. He was not an old man then, but he was in his prime. He and the Negro had gone one day and night with their elbows on a chalked line on the table...."
  • the sleepless Santiago's thoughts about harpooning his prey next to his skiff: "Now I have killed this fish who was my brother"; as he brought the fish in from far off-shore (he apologized to the fish: "I went out too far, fish, no good for you nor for me. I'm sorry fish...I am sorry I went out too far. Ruined us both"), mako sharks nibbled at the carcass lashed to the side of his boat, and mutilated it - nothing was left but skeletal remains by the time he reached the dock
  • the concluding voice-over: "That afternoon, there was a party of tourists from Havana at a café. One of them looked down at the water, and among the empty beer cans and dead barracuda, she saw the long backbone of the great fish that was now just garbage waiting to go out with the tide. 'What's that?' she asked the waiter. 'Tiburón,' the waiter said. 'A shark.' He was trying to explain what had happened to the marlin. 'I didn't know sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails,' the woman said. 'I didn't either,' her male companion answered. Up the road in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face, and the boy was sitting by him, watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions."
Havana Tourists in Cafe
Marlin Carcass Backbone
"The old man was dreaming about the lions"

(Opening Narration)

(Spencer Tracy)

(Felipe Pazos, Jr.)

Hooking a Giant Fish That Towed His Skiff Out to Sea


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z