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 Ernest Hemingway's short 1952 novel - a mythic story about a fisherman off the coast of Cuba who heroically 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] - it won the Academy Award for Dimitri Tiomkin's Best Dramatic Score:

  • the opening voice-over narration told about an aging Cuban fisherman/Narrator - Santiago (Oscar-nominated 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 because Santiago began to consider the boy bad luck and the cause of his failed fishing trips: ("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...")
  • when he was ashore, the young Manolin idolized Santiago - and Santiago often turned to young Manolin for social and physical support; one of their topics of discussion was baseball (from newspaper reports), specifically the Yankees and Santiago's idol - player Joe DiMaggio, who sometimes visited Havana: ("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 experienced night-time dreams of his younger days, when he was in Africa and lively lion cubs played on the beach-shore
  • in his strenuous quest to provide a living for himself, the old, frail and often solitary and lonely fisherman was unable to catch a fish in 84 days of fishing: [Note: the sequences of marlin-fishing were derivative - "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"]
  • but then, he finally hooked a giant marlin on the line on his 85th day of fishing; over a period of three days and nights during his agonizing struggle with the creature, he tried to land the huge monstrous creature as the great fish towed his skiff way out to sea; he described his very taxing experience (in 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"
  • Santiago 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"
  • in the heat of the day from the blazing sun in the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic, the old man began to suffer fatigue and bloody arthritic hands from the fishline - in his contest of wills: ("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 recalled another scene of his youth -- a marathon contest 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 was able to finally kill the marlin by 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 to return home, 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")
  • a group of hungry mako sharks nibbled at the carcass of the marlin lashed to the side of his boat, and mutilated it - Santiago was helpless to gallantly defend his prized fish against the overwhelming number of sharks; by the time he reached the dock with his catch, nothing was left but skeletal remains - but it still provided proof of his triumphant struggle against nature
  • the concluding voice-over described: "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)

Santiago (Spencer Tracy)

Manolin (Felipe Pazos, Jr.)

Hooking a Giant Fish That Towed His Skiff Out to Sea


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