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The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film)


The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film)

The Old Man and the Sea
Directed by John Sturges
Henry King
Fred Zinnemann (Uncredited)
Produced by Leland Hayward
Written by Peter Viertel
Based on The Old Man and the Sea 
by Ernest Hemingway
Starring Spencer Tracy
Narrated by Spencer Tracy[1]
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Add'l photography: Floyd Crosby, Tom Tutwiler
Underwater photography: Lamar Boren[2]
Edited by Arthur P. Schmidt,
Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time
86 minutes[3]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million[4]

The Old Man and the Sea is a Warnercolor 1958 film starring Spencer Tracy, in a portrayal for which he was nominated for a best actor Oscar. The screenplay (the "most literal, word-for-word rendition of a written story ever filmed"[1]) was adapted by Peter Viertel from the novella of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, and the film was directed by John Sturges. Sturges called it "technically the sloppiest picture I have ever made."[4]

Dimitri Tiomkin won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on the film, one that was also nominated for best color cinematography.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Music 4
  • Reception 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Plot summary

Spencer Tracy is the Old Man, a Cuban fisherman who tries to haul in a huge fish that he catches far from shore.[5] He has gone 84 days without a catch - his only friend, a young boy (Felipe Pazos), is barred by his father from accompanying him to sea. On the 85th day the old man hooks a huge marlin. For three days and nights he battles the fish as a trial of mental and physical courage—and the ultimate test of his worth as a man.


  • Spencer Tracy as The Old Man
  • Felipe Pazos Jr. as The boy
  • Harry Bellaver as Martin
  • Don Diamond as Café proprietor
  • Don Blackman as Arm wrestler
  • Mary Hemingway as a tourist
  • Joey Ray as a gambler
  • Richard Alameda as a gambler
  • Tony Rosa as a gambler
  • Carlos Rivero as a gambler
  • Robert Alderette as a gambler
  • Mauritz Hugo as a gambler
  • Ernest Hemingway as tourist in café [cameo]


Fred Zinnemann was the film's original director; after he withdrew, he was replaced by John Sturges.[4] The film's budget—originally $2 million— grew to $5 million "in search of suitable fish footage."[4] According to Turner Classic Movies, a February 2005 CNN article points out that The Old Man and the Sea was one of the first films to "use a bluescreen compositing technology invented by Arthur Widmer that combined actors on a soundstage with a pre-filmed background."[1]

The credits note that "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."[1][6]

Felipe Pazos Jr., who played the role of the boy in the film, is the son of the Cuban economist and revolutionary, Felipe Pazos.


Veteran film composer Dimitri Tiomkin composed and conducted the music for the film. His soundtrack recording, with the Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra, was recorded in the auditorium of Hollywood Post No. 43, American Legion, in Hollywood; "The Billboard" reported that the acoustics in the Hollywood Legion were "far superior to most studio space in Hollywood and similar to that of the best concert halls." During the week of April 21, 1958, Columbia held open sessions for "The Old Man and the Sea" at the Legion Hall. The soundtrack was later released in both stereo and mono by Columbia Records.


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:[3]

Credit Leland Hayward for trying something off the beaten track in making a motion-picture version of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and credit Spencer Tracy for a brave performance in its one big role. Also credit Dimitri Tiomkin for providing a musical score that virtually puts Mr. Tracy in the position of a soloist with a symphony. And that just about completes a run-down of the praiseworthy aspects of this film.

Among the film's short-comings, Crowther notes, is that "an essential feeling of the sweep and surge of the open sea is not achieved in precise and placid pictures that obviously were shot in a studio tank. There are, to be sure, some lovely long shots of Cuban villages and the colorful coast...But the main drama, that of the ordeal, is played in a studio tank, and even some fine shots of a marlin breaking the surface and shaking in violent battle are deflated by obvious showing on the process screen."[3]

Time noted that "the script follows the book in almost every detail" and called the novel a fable "no more suitable for the screen than The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"; Tracy was "never permitted to catch a marlin" while on location, so the "camera could never catch him at it" and the result is "Sturges must cross-cut so interminably—fish, Tracy, fish, Tracy—that Old Man loses the lifelikeness, the excitement, and above all the generosity of rhythm that the theme requires.[4]

Hemingway was pleased with the film. According to Leland Hayward, the film's producer, Hemingway said it had "a wonderful emotional quality and [he] is very grateful and pleased with the transference of his material to the screen. He thought Tracy was great (in light of his quarrels with him this is quite a compliment) ... the photography was excellent ... the handling of the fishing and mechanical fish very good. Had some minor dislikes ... but all in all he was terribly high on the picture and pleased with it."[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ a b c d e
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Curtis, James (2011). Spencer Tracy: A Biography. London: Hutchinson. pp. 744-745. The notes for this page attribute the quotation as follows: "Leland Hayward as reported to Jack L. Warner by Steve Trilling, 3/10/58, Jack Warner Collection, University of Southern California."

External links

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