The Old Man and the Sea (1958) Review

The Old Man and the Sea (1958) Director: John Sturges


The film version of Hemingway’s classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novella offers a surprisingly engaging take on the story. Click here to read my reflections on the 1952 novella as part of my Pulitzer Prize winners reading project. The film was directed by John Sturges, famous for other movies like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Sturges later called The Old Man and the Sea the “sloppiest” picture he ever made -in particular because of the underwater scenes. Apparently, some of the marlin scenes were re-used from the world’s record catch by Alfred Glassell. Interestingly enough, The Old Man and the Sea was one of the earliest Hollywood films to ever make use of a blue screen. In all, the film is well done and accurately captures the essence of the novella. It also features an excellent score for which Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award. However, various scenes appear as if made for television, and many scenes on the open ocean were obviously made on a Hollywood backlot. My personal favorite scenes in the film are the flashbacks/dreams with lions on the beaches of Africa.

The setting of the film is a coastal Cuban fishing village. Spencer Tracy stars as the old man (or “Santiago” in the novel) -he was nominated for an Oscar. for Best Actor. The old man has gone 84 days without catching a fish. He is supported in his efforts by a young boy named Manolin. On the 85th day the old man ventures out on the sea and catches a massive marlin after a three day struggle. When he finally drags the marlin carcass back to shore, it is eaten apart by sharks. He returns home dejected and tired.

Apparently, Hemingway was not totally disappointed with this adaptation of his work, despite the many challenges the film posed for John Sturges as well as Spencer Tracy.

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