How the West was Won (1962)

When it’s on: Friday, 2 January (2.05 pm)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

It’s a neat comparison to suggest that Cinerama was the IMAX of its day. The latter, those colossal cinema experiences, are quite special in their own way, but with home cinema easily available and many big new releases available on IMAX, it can’t replicate the extent to to which Cinerama really was a big deal.

From 1949 to 1952, cinema audiences dwindled dangerously with the advent of television. As more American homes welcomed an ‘idiot’s lantern’, the number of people up for a night at the movies dropped by nearly a half, and Hollywood moguls scratched their heads over what to do about this crisis. The answer, inevitably, was spectacle. TVs invariably were 9″ screens, capable of producing black and white images, so the solution was to serve up something in theatres that the goggle box just couldn’t show you – sprawling films, featuring casts of thousands, made on a massive scale and in full, glorious colour. Little surprise, perhaps, that this was the era of the swords and sandals epic, the likes of Quo Vadis wowing the masses with expensively made feasts for the eyes. But it didn’t stop there. Ever earnest to undermine television, Hollywood came up with filming processes that widened the screen, given grandiose names like Vistavision and Cinemascope and offering more and more detail to awestruck audiences. ‘Widescreen’ was nothing new; as early as 1927, Abel Gance took advantage of a three-panel process called Polyvision to increase the scope of Napoleon and showed all those extras having at each other in contemporary military uniforms.

But even by these standards, Cinerama offered something unique. Fred Waller, who previously had attempted a logistically ludicrous process that used eleven projectors casting their images onto a dome, developed a system in which three cameras recorded simultaneously. The results would then be projected separately onto the left, central and right panels of a huge curved screen, done in such a way to produce a single, seamless image. A seven-channel sound system was an accompanying innovation, all designed to give audiences the feeling of being virtually immersed in what was being shown on the screen. Early exhibitions of the process, the wildly successful This is Cinerama (1952) was a showcase of what it could do, opening with a Roller Coaster ride that was shown from the perspective of someone sitting in the front car. The experience for viewers must have been amazing; This is Cinerama was a huge hit, more so for the limited number of screens that could support it.

Travelogues that took cameras to parts of the world previously inaccessible to the public made up much of Cinerama’s output through the rest of the 1950s, until it was decided to make dramatic films specifically for the process. The first was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. The second, and perhaps the ultimate expression of what Cinerama could create, was How the West was Won. It cost $15 million, a vast investment for the time, employed a cast of thousands to rub shoulders with some very big stars, took in the work of three prestigious directors, and created a sprawling saga that ran for more than two and a half hours.

It’s difficult watching How the West was Won on a small screen to appreciate the impact it must have made on Cinemara audiences. The film was designed for those looming curved screens, so something is inevitably lost on an ordinary television, even on a modern LED. For certain, there are better Westerns. The tight plotting of the very finest the genre has to offer goes out of the window in favour of a smash and grab from classic Western stories – castle rustling, showdowns with Native Americans, train heists, gunfights. It’s all in here, stringing together a loosely arching plot that tracks the Prescott family over half a century as they emigrate westward. The story takes in their experience as pioneering emigrants, the impact of the Civil war on their fortunes, along with that of the railroad, and the brief period of lawlessness before civilisation catches up with the mass migration of humans across the continent.

The conversion of a film intended for Cinerama onto a flat widescreen format presents further problems. At times, it’s possible to see the ‘joins’ on the screen, particularly when the shot is filled with blue skies. Added to that is the strange sense of perspective; it’s a little like watching the film on a cylinder, objects moving horizontally towards the screen from the right background before appearing to veer off towards the left rather than simply straight across it. To compensate for perspective issues, directors made actors stand in the dead centre of the screen and could never favour close-up shots. When two people converse, they were unable to look at each other in order for the illusion to work on Cinerama, yet on a ‘normal’ screen the problem returns and characters talk whilst peering off into some middle distance.

These, however, are minor issues and never really ruin the film, rather it’s possible to sit back and luxuriate in some quite gorgeous photography. One of the enormous benefits of Cinerama was its ability to show off the American landscape in beautiful, crystal clear images, and How the West was Won features the west at its most brilliant, natural and barren, indeed much of the intention was to illustrate a land untouched by the footsteps of modern man. It’s a thing of staggering visual pleasure.

The show is helped by the presence of an excellent cast of actors, a compendium of some the Western genre’s leading lights. Some, like John Wayne and Harry Morgan as jaded Generals Sherman and Grant, are little more than high profile cameo appearances. Gregory Peck is fine as a card playing rogue who also possesses a heart. There’s James Stewart, too old to be the fur tracker who captures Carroll Baker’s heart, but bringing class to the screen, and he’s involved in one of the film’s best action scenes when he helps the Prescotts beat off river pirates led by Water Brennan (and including in their ranks Lee Van Cleef). The film’s second half focuses strongly on George Peppard’s Zeb, the son of Baker and Stewart, who fights in the Civil War before helping the security of the railroad’s building and coming across Henry Fonda as a cynical and grizzled frontiersman. Zeb also has moral struggles with that classic Western anti-hero, Richard Widmark, who oversees the railtrack’s construction at any cost and whoever it affects, and later fights physically against Eli Wallach’s train robber, Charlie Gant.

There’s a lot going on, so much that the film was split into five segments, three of which were directed by Henry Hathaway, with George Marshall taking on the railroad story and John Ford covering the Civil War. All three experienced frustration with the Cinerama filming, the needs of the camera taking precedence over their normal shooting style, and they all wound up using objects like tree trunks to cover up the bits where audiences might see the ‘joins’.

How the West was Won is far from the best Western, but equally there’s nothing quite like it. Apart from the Cinerama aspects, it’s possible to see the film as marking the end of an era, a sort of compendium of the genre’s best bits from its classic era, before it moved into darker and grittier territory with the advent of the ‘Spaghetti’ films and Clint Eastwood.

How the West was Won: ****

And with that, readers, we’ve reached the end of the holiday fortnight. It’s been a blast writing these pieces, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them, perhaps one or two have even inspired you to watch a film you might otherwise have ignored. The bad news is that I can’t sustain this pace over a normal working week, however I have had too much of a good time to simply stop, and will be keeping FOTB going, probably on a reduced, two-three reviews per week basis. It’s your readership and support that has kept it going, so thanks for all the Follows, Likes and Comments, and I hope to see you throughout 2015!

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Spellbound (1945)

When it’s on: Tuesday, 30 December (12.45 am, Wednesday)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love. After that they make the best patients.

A confession. I had pencilled Spellbound in for today’s write-up whilst not looking forward to it very much and wondering whether to choose something else, something easier, instead. There’s a temptation to deride it, Alfred Hitchcock’s massive hit from 1945 that was mimicked and parodied to death in the following years, an exploration of psychoanalysis that comes with its fair share of moments that today come across as very nearly laughable, framed within a fine and entertaining drama.

At its heart, Spellbound is a noirish thriller, covering themes of psychological guilt that would become a staple of the genre, only here it’s dressed up with layers of prestige – Hitchcock behind the camera, David O Selznick producing, psychiatric advisers attached to give the impression of authenticity, a large budget and the presence of two consummate A-list actors at their most beautiful. It was inspired by a novel, The House of Dr Edwardes, though very little remains from it save some character names and the concept of power held by psychiatrists, which is presumably what drove Hitchcock to purchase the filming rights.

Made for Selznick International Pictures as part of the director’s outstanding contractual obligations, Hitchcock and Selznick clashed constantly – think two able and controlling men exercising their own agendas and demanding overall hold over the project. The latter’s positive experiences of psychiatry meant that he wanted it to be treated as a serious science, ordering a Shakespearean quote to be added to the credits in order to enhance its credibility, as well as the advisers being on set. It was Selznick who wanted the impressionistic ‘doors opening’ sequence as Ingrid Bergman realises she is in love with Gregory Peck, the doors of perception flying open, though it looks gimmicky now and Hitchcock preferred the actors to convey the emotions without having the extra – and rather obvious – meaning tacked on for viewers. As for Hitch, it would appear he treated the whole deal as props for a thrilling plot, adding his trademark visual flair (the glass of milk sequence, the disembodied hand turning the loaded gun back towards the camera) and championing the film’s famous dream scene that was designed as a surreal nightmare by Salvador Dali.

The plot follows psychiatrist, Dr Constance Peterson (Bergman), academic and aloof, who is preparing to see the back of the asylum’s head, Dr Murchison (Leo G Carroll) and welcome the arrival of his replacement, Dr Edwardes (Peck). Constance is a great admirer of Edwardes, in particular his published research, but is surprised to find that he’s much younger and better looking than she anticipated. Then things begin to unravel. Quickly, it’s established that Edwardes is himself psychologically disturbed; he can’t look at lines on a white background without suffering distress. Before too long it emerges that he isn’t the Doctor at all but an imposter, indeed he starts to believe he might have killed Edwardes and taken his place. What’s worse, if he is a murderer, then what’s to stop him from striking again, perhaps Constance or her mentor Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov)? Edwardes, or ‘JB’ as he starts calling himself, flees to New York, followed by Constance who’s desperate to get to the root of his problems before anyone else gets hurt.

Taking any of this seriously is a stretch. Peck’s fits and starts at the sight of anything white that has lines running across it becomes hokey very quickly, particularly as Miklos Rosza’s score employs a theremin during these moments to emphasise the character’s deranged mood swings. Fortunately, the two leads have such instant chemistry and appeal together that the silliness takes second place to the sight of two very attractive and charismatic performers who look as though they want to rip each others’ clothes off whenever they’re together, the psychobabble buried beneath longing looks and touching. The pair had an affair during the production, the kind of fact that makes you want to exclaim ‘well, of course they did!’ as the spark between them is so obvious.

The film is probably best known now for its famous dream sequence, a creative collaboration between Hitchcock and Dali that essentially gave away the plot’s secrets, though it’s designed in such an oblique way that it only links with the revelations as these are exposed. Originally twenty minutes’ long, the scene was cut ruthlessly to a fraction of that running time by Selznick, removing much of its complexity and imaginative leaps, though what remains is powerful and visually arresting, the cutting of a painted eyeball with scissors, the appearance of a masked and malevolent club proprietor, the card game with its extra large playing cards and distorted camera angles to make the scene appear more dreamlike.

Almost as good is the evening meeting between JB and Brulov, at a moment in the film when the audience’s suspicions of the former are at their peak. Holding a switchblade razor, JB in a trancelike state, almost sleepwalking, goes to see Brulov in his study. Ignoring the razor, the middle-aged doctor fetches JB a glass of milk whilst the camera remains fixed on the blade, which remains in the forefront of the shot. We then see JB drink the milk, the camera’s perspective from his eyeline so that the glass moves into shot, then the liquid, Brulov emerging as the milk goes down. The viewers are left in doubt as to what happens next, until Constance wakes up the following morning and finds Brulov, prone, on his couch…

There’s no doubt that Spellbound has its moments, some great scenes that are well worth remembering and talking about; the film’s only moment of colour is a jarring flash of red that has real dramatic impact. But it’s flawed, deeply so, the product of a creatively profitable yet fundamentally clashing pair of personalities. Within Hitchcock’s canon it’s far from his best work, but it is interesting.

Spellbound: ***

The Big Country (1958)

The Big Country

When it’s on: Sunday, 30 December (4.40 pm)
Channel: ITV4
IMDb Link

Something of a forgotten entry from the golden age of the Western, you will rarely find William Wyler’s The Big Country on Top Ten lists, and yet it remains one of my favourites. It’s unfashionably epic in scope, running twenty minutes short of the three-hour mark. It works either as the straightforward tale of two feuding families or as a parable of the Cold War, which was reaching its hottest point at the time. There’s no involvement with Native Americans, who are relegated to ‘mentioned anecdotally’ status. Its main character is an impossibly good fish out of water, constantly trying to comprehend the animosity raging around him, whilst the best performances arguably come from the film’s supporting players.

Wyler’s adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s short story, Ambush at Blanco Canyon, was his attempt to weave a classic tale related on the widest canvas. Together with cinematographer Franz Planer, his backdrop was the vast plains of some long tamed frontier land, endless grassland with blue skies that stretched forever, the idealised big country of the title, indeed the contrast between the two families is reflected stylistically in their locales – the wealthy Terrills live amidst lush greenery; bleached, stark limestone canyons mark the world of the redneck Hannasseys. The source of the factions’ tension is cattle, specifically grazing rights to the disputed Big Muddy and its vital water supply. This is owned by schoolteacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons), who wants no part in the strife and refuses to sell to either party.

The leaders of their respective clans are works of art, and with his considerable running time Wyler has adequate time to breathe life into these old school monsters. The Terrills are headed by Major Henry (Charles Bickford), all surface amiability yet perpetually looking down his nose at anyone who challenges his hegemony in his world. The main object of his ire is Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives), an unrefined rancher who feels every glare of belittlement, whilst maintaining a raw nobility when it comes to resolving his own family matters. The Major’s daughter is Pat (Carroll Baker), his faithful foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston), with sexual tension simmering between the pair as Steve aims to work his way into the Terrill’s fortunes.

It’s unfortunate for him that the film opens with Pat’s fiance arriving in town, a dapper, well-heeled gentleman who looks as though he belongs to the Old West as you or I might. This is James McKay (Gregory Peck), a retired naval captain with a completely defined set of values and plans for the troubled Big Muddy. Much is made of his genteel otherworldliness, especially by Leech, who sees him as entirely unworthy of at and does all he can to drive home the fact. McKay is ridiculed for refusing to take his turn on the volatile horse, Old Thunder, a kind of rite of passage for newcomers to the Terrill ranch, for wandering off alone for a couple of days and finally for backing down from a fight with Leech, who won’t accept his assertion that he hadn’t gotten himself lost. In turn, he steadily loses Pat’s respect, though she doesn’t learn until it’s too late that he’s not only tamed Thunder but also fought Leech to an exhausted stalemate, preferring to settle these matters privately due to having nothing to prove. By then, he’s already falling for Julie and in the thick of the hatred between both families as the Hannasseys try to match the teacher with Rufus’s errant son, Buck (Chuck Connors).

All this is filmed extravagantly, much of it enhanced by Jerome Moross’s sweeping score. How Moross lost out to Dimitri Tiomkin’s work on The Old Man and the Sea is anyone’s guess. It’s almost the perfect score, capturing virtuously the crackling tension and eulogising appropriately over those soaring shots of the big country. And yet one of the film’s best scenes – the dawn fistfight between McKay and Leech  – has no musical accompaniment, the soundtrack instead dominated by connecting fists, groans and bodies colliding with the dirt, Wyler directing beautifully the pair framed like ants against the landscape.

The Big Country has time and space to build steadily to its climax, a ‘worth waiting for’ escalation of trouble until all parties clash in Blanco Canyon. By now, the principal characters have been explored so thoroughly that it’s tough to tell the good from the bad, though it’s clear the ugly is represented by Buck, who attempts to rape Julie before turning ‘yeller’ in his climactic duel with McKay. Moross’s music is never better than in the scene where Major Terrill and his men are about to enter the Canyon. Leech refuses to follow his boss; he knows the canyon is guarded with guns behind every rock and they’d be walking into a deathtrap. The rest follow Leech’s lead, leaving the Major marching in alone. As the music rises, the camera tracks the Major, a lone rider approaching him from behind. It’s Leech, who’s joined in turn by the rest of the marching party. The moment’s all the better because it contains no words, just looks and a smile on the Major’s face, Leech’s more enigmatic expression suggesting the conflict underneath, emphasised by how much quieter and more reflective he’s been since his fight with McKay.

A difficult shoot punctuated by various conflicts between the cast and crew that of course worked in producing the tension-filled overtones of the film, The Big Country remains great viewing. Peck looks like he’s in training for his career-defining Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The chemistry between Simmons and himself is too transparent to ensure the characters’ eventual union is anything less than obvious,  particularly as Baker is called on to play the unsympathetic, spoiled Daddy’s girl as Pat. Burl Ives won an Academy Award for his role, and a towering performance his is, never less than in the scene where he gatecrashes the Terrill’s party to deliver some choice words to the Major. My pick is perhaps Heston, taking a supporting part so that he could work with Wyler and being rewarded with the starring role in the forthcoming Ben Hur. He’s too big, both physically and in terms of presence, for his own character, yet the contradiction works because he’s there, glowering in the background as McKay courts Pat, an ever present source of smouldering tautness that neither can ignore.

The Big Country: ****

Only the Valiant (1951)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 13 June (1.10 pm)
Channel: Channel 4
IMDb Link

Today’s update should have focused on Bigger than Life; unfortunately the DVD dispatched by LoveFilm didn’t play (it looked as though someone clawed the disc) and there wasn’t time to get my back-up film shipped out (The House on 92nd Street). I could have ‘winged it’ in both instances, but it’s a while since I’ve seen either movie and I would have been unable to do any kind of justice to them. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for the back-up of the back-up, John Woo’s Face/Off, so into the public domain I went for Choice No. 4, Only the Valiant.

Expect much I did not. The two-star review in the Radio Times wasn’t promising, nor the fact Gregory Peck considered it to be his worst project. Besides, the plot – plucky army misfits defend a mountain pass from thousands of bloodthirsty Indians – sounded like something I’d seen a thousand times, indeed it’s the classic tale of prevailing against huge odds that’s been reproduced since the Battle of Thermopylae.

The first portion of the film doesn’t convince. Peck plays Richard Lance, a straight shooting cavalry officer who’s respected by the men, but unloved for doing everything by the book. This includes his treatment of Tucsos, the captured tribal leader. Clearly, Lance should leave ‘the book’ to one side and ensure Tucsos meets a sticky end; instead he’s going to send him behind the frontline to a US prison. The Captain prepares to do the task himself, but his Commanding Officer advises him he’s needed at his post, so he hands it over to his Lieutenant. It’s a bad move. Tucsos is rescued; the man Lance sent returns minus a scalp and the soldiers’ dislike turns to open hate. Worse still, Lance has earned the enmity of his sweetheart, Cathy Eversham (Babara Payton), who believes he let the Lieutenant die to get rid of a love rival.

At this point, Only the Valiant plays like it wants to be a John Ford cavalry epic, only it’s in the hands of Gordon Douglas’s lesser talent. The shots are selected efficiently rather than with any sense of imagination. Some of the editing is terrible, leaving actors looking at nothing long after the cut should have been made. Barbara Payton*, clearly cast as eye candy, puts in an awful, histrionic performance. The chemistry between her and Peck is practically non-existent, which is strange considering the pair enjoyed each other’s company much more away from the set.

It’s here that Lance volunteers to defend the unmanned fort behind the pass, holding off the inevitable Indian attack until reinforcements arrive. He’s allowed to select his men and chooses the most unlikely bunch imaginable. They’re the regiment’s cream of insubordinate and useless soldiers, including those who might kill him before firing a shot at a Native American. Sure enough, potential attempts on his life are made. The men can’t be bothered to properly carry out his orders. But then the first Indian foray comes; then another. Lance’s men steadily dwindle, yet they hold their own. Slowly, they start to believe in their Captain, his leadership and tactical acumen winning them over until they begin to band as a fighting force.

Once the soldiers enter the fort, the splendidly named Fort Invincible, Only the Valiant becomes a very entertaining piece of viewing. Everything about it, all those elements that counted against it in the opening acts, start to work. A relatively low budget production that was filmed in black and white, the picture’s monochrome look turns into a very good thing. Fort Invincible, a virtual ruin, takes on a real claustrophobic feel, shadows and jagged building frames closing in on the men. The pass, wreathed in increasing darkness with each successive attack, becomes filled with portentous danger. All Douglas need do is point the camera at it, for moments showing us nothing but the inky blackness, and suspense is guaranteed. There’s no doubt the pass is filled with angry warriors, armed to the teeth and ready to pour out at any second, yet Douglas lets the tension mount.

It’s been suggested that Peck disliked the film because he’s given such a one-dimensional character to play. Lance is a fairly bland hero, only really worth watching because of the star’s natural charisma. Perhaps his problem was having to work with reliable character actors who walk away with the picture. Your choices begin with Ward Bond, the supporting actor’s supporting actor, someone who shines as Corporal Gilchrist. A boozy Irishman with a clear love for life, Bond’s happy go lucky performance is a joy. But even better is Lon Chaney Jr, here playing Trooper Kebussyan of Middle Eastern descent, referred to by his fellows dubiously as ‘the A-rab’ and calling Lance ‘Effendi’ as his respect for the Captain develops. Chaney hams his part deliciously, putting in a bellicose turn as the man who seems most likely to kill Lance but instead growing in affinity.

Only the Valiant isn’t a great film. The Native Americans are little better than mindless savages, present to be gunned down by the defenders. The relief force, when it arrives, expounds the virtues of the Gatling Gun, a clumsy Cold War allegory for the USA’s upper hand in the technology race. But it is good fun, a perfectly diverting piece of entertainment that has more going for it than first appears.

Only the Valiant: ***

*In my reading about this film, I couldn’t help but come across the cautionary tale that was Barbara Payton’s short life. Only the Valiant was her seventh film appearance in a career that appeared to be steadily on the rise; in reality it was already beginning to slide. Her off-screen lifestyle, which took in a string of affairs, heavy drinking and scandal, quickly overtook anything she did before the camera. By the mid-fifties, her tilt at stardom was over. A further decade of self-abuse and rough living followed, before she died from heart and liver failure in 1967. More information here.

Moby Dick (1956)

When it’s on: Monday, 7 May (2.50 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
IMDb Link

I’ll follow him around the Horn, and around the Norway maelstrom, and around perdition’s flames before I give him up.

In preparation for watching Moby Dick, I downloaded Herman Melville’s novel onto my Kindle with the intention of ploughing through it and comparing text with film. Sadly, I’ve only made it to the 10% mark so far, quite enjoying what I’ve read though it’s a tough-going tome in places, pages and pages of nothing much happening yet much in terms of foreboding and whalecraft.

Adapting Melville into a film was always going to be a tall order, though the book’s classic status ensures many have tried. Presumably one of the main problems is the story’s lack of romance, the long passages involving descriptions of life on board the Pequod and the way everything takes place right at the end. John Huston’s 1956 entry is nevertheless a manful effort. The attempt to outline the crew’s relationship with their captain, Ahab, brings to life the occasionally claustrophobic, always mutually dependent world of the nineteenth century whaler. Moby Dick is told from the perspective of Ishmael (Richard Basehart), who’s recounting the tale as the Pequod’s sole survivor. A cypher with the task of describing the characters around him, Ishmael isn’t the most interesting seafarer, but then he’s never meant to be. Much better value are Leo Genn as the Pequod’s first mate, Starbuck, tattooed harpooner Queequeg (Friedrich von Ledebur) and inevitably Ahab himself.

The story opens with the Pequod’s crew steadily assembling in Nantucket. They attend church service before they go, a great scene in which the cameras roams along the pews, picking out plaques dedicated to the dead (all have perished at sea, a warning if ever there was one) before focusing on Orson Welles’s sermon. Welles is as ever brilliant value in his cameo, pontificating from a pulpit that’s dressed up as a masthead – apparently, he took the part in order to fund his own stage version of the book (I always love looking into the reasons for Welles popping up in films; it was always to help finance his own projects).

Soon enough, they’re at sea, searching for whales whilst Ahab glowers in his cabin. Half an hour passes before we get our first proper glimpse of him, all wooden legged and scarred face, played by Gregory Peck. Ahab gets the best speeches in the script (my favourite bit of dialogue heads this entry), driven ever by his desire to get revenge against the enormous white whale, Moby Dick, that took his leg. True to his motivation throughout the story, Ahab clashes with his crew often – they’re in it for profit and have no interest in his vengeance, but he’s the captain and they follow him sullenly, never fully aware of how far he’s prepared to take the men in realising his goal. There’s several marvellous scenes that illustrate the tension – one in which Starbuck prepares for mutiny, another when Ahab refuses to help a boat that’s searching for the captain’s son.

Two aspects stood against Moby Dick, which experienced a troubled shoot and escalating costs. One is the effects work involving the whale. Plenty was invested in getting this right, but Moby often enough looks like what it is – a model – and pre-CGI, it must have been almost impossible to make the thing work. The original model was 75 feet long and floated out to sea, leaving the crew to rely on ‘whale parts’ for the shots where it interacts with actors, and miniatures otherwise. Secondly, Peck’s performance, which earned mixed reactions from audiences used to seeing him as a hero. Generally cast as the romantic lead, Peck toned down his handsome looks with Ahab’s scarring and an unhinged, shouty performance and, whilst there may have been more obvious choices (James Mason springs to mind) he’s actually pretty good, convincing as the captain with terrifying levels of obsession.

Moby Dick: ***