The Sea Beast (1926)

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dachshundonstilts
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The Sea Beast (1926)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Sun Oct 15, 2017 9:54 pm

As what I believe is the first screen version of Moby Dick, this film perfectly fits the description "a loose adaptation"! It was a pretty long running time, close to two hours. The DVD I watched is an obvious bootleg, with an eclectic score using mostly traditional orchestral stuff but also some jazz and rock sounds... I had to turn the sound off when the drums got too distracting!

It's hard to to say very much about the technical aspects, since the print was in such bad shape that I was frequently reminded how fortunate I was to be seeing this film at all. Many shots were overexposed and a few had serious nitrate burns, but the story wasn't hard to follow. The only place there seemed to be discontinuities was right around the (in)famous Long Passionate Kiss between John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, which made me think the shot was probably rescued from somewhere else and reinserted as well as possible into a censored copy of the movie. But it didn't disappoint.

So, the loose adaptation that is The Sea Beast... John Barrymore is Captain Ahab, but the story begins some years earlier with a romance between dashing young harpoonist Ahab and his beloved Esther, played by the ever-charming Dolores Costello. There's also Ahab's half-brother Derek, who proves to be a right Iago, constantly scheming to get Esther for himself. While the two men are out chasing after Moby Dick, Derek sneakily causes Ahab to fall overboard, which results in the loss of Ahab's right leg to the iconic Great White Whale.

Once they return from sea, Esther breaks down in pity at the sight of Ahab's peg leg. Ahab agrees to meet her after a party she's attending, but while they're apart Derek goes to work, convincing Ahab that Esther has fallen in love with Derek and then telling Esther that Ahab has given himself over to bitterness. Misled by some silhouettes in Esther's window, Ahab believes she's kissing Derek and accepts that she has betrayed him. Only then does he hobble off and become the revenge-obsessed captain of the Pequod. But years later, while chasing Moby again, Ahab learns that the whale isn't to blame for his misfortunes. Suffice it to say that the film ends quite differently from the book that inspired it.

I thought it worked well for the kind of film it was. The cinematography was interesting enough, with some good high-angle shots from the crow's nest and a pretty believable storm at sea and glimpses of thrashing whale parts in the ocean. With Barrymore and Costello doing their thing, it's good entertainment unless you're an easily-irritated book purist. So I leave you with this one question.... Is "harpoonist" a word?
"I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund." - Monty, "It" (1927)

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Kitty
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Re: The Sea Beast (1926)

Post by Kitty » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:42 am

Thank you for the review! It sounds like a good movie. Regarding what you said about being reminded how fortunate you were to have been able to watch it at all, I felt the same way watching The Scarlet Letter with Lillian Gish.
I wondered how they did the whale or if they showed it at all. Glad you mentioned that.
Harpoonist... I don't know about that. Probably. But I think they usually call them whalers!
You trying to tell me you didn't hear that shriek? That was something trying to get out of its premature grave, and I don't want to be here when it does. - Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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dachshundonstilts
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Re: The Sea Beast (1926)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:12 pm

Yeah, I think everyone on a whaling ship was a whaler but the harpoon guys were called something special.

They showed the whale's tail and part of its back surfacing. The tail was shown from a distance, so that was probably real.
"I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund." - Monty, "It" (1927)

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Kitty
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Re: The Sea Beast (1926)

Post by Kitty » Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:04 pm

You just made me really want to see it!!!
You trying to tell me you didn't hear that shriek? That was something trying to get out of its premature grave, and I don't want to be here when it does. - Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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dachshundonstilts
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Re: The Sea Beast (1926)

Post by dachshundonstilts » Fri Oct 20, 2017 9:15 pm

Correction... it's over 2 hours!
"I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund." - Monty, "It" (1927)

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