(1956 c 115')
Based on Herman Melville’s novel, sailors join a ship under a disabled whaling captain, who seeks revenge against the white whale that took his leg.
Ishmael (Richard Basehart) walks with a bag on a mountain trail and wants to go to sea again. He arrives at New Bedford in late 1841 at night and goes into an inn and orders a drink. He wants to go whaling and is told he needs permission. Stubb (Harry Andrews) gives him permission and proposes a toast to him. Stubb describes whales. They see Ahab walking outside with a wooden leg, and Stubb says he is a captain. The men sing and dance.
Ishmael is in bed, and Queequeg (Friedrich von Ledebur) comes in, undresses, and gets in the same bed. Ishmael shouts for help, and the inn-keeper Peter Coffin (Joseph Tomelty) comes in. Ishmael says he is sleeping with a cannibal, and Peter says he told him about his collection of shrunken heads.
At the whale-man’s chapel the congregation sings a hymn. On the walls are plaques with the names of the dead. Father Mapple (Orson Welles) climbs up a rope ladder to the pulpit. He preaches about Jonah, who tried to flee from God on a ship. Sailors cast him overboard, and a great whale swallowed him. Jonah prayed to God, who had the whale free him. Jonah then began to preach the truth.
Ishmael returns to his room and finds Queequeg with a book about whales, and Ishmael reads some to him. He asks Queequeg who he is, and he tells how a ship took him far. They both plan to sign up on a whaling ship. At the harbor they look at the Pequod and go aboard. A Quaker talks to them and says Ahab is the captain. A big whale took a leg from Ahab. Bildad (Philip Stainton) agrees to hire Ishmael, and he signs for a three-hundredth. Ishmael asks if Ahab was not a wicked king of old. Queequeg demonstrates his skill with a harpoon and signs up by making the sign of a whale.
The ship is prepared, and a man warns Ishmael and Queequeg that the ship and Ahab are cursed. He says they will smell land when there is none, and on that day Ahab will go to his death and rise again. He says his name is Elijah. Ishmael and Queequeg go on board. Second mate Stubb directs the men, and they chant as they work. The ship leaves port, and the sails are unfurled.
The Pequod goes east toward the Azores. Starbuck (Leo Genn) is second in command. At night Ishmael and Queequeg hear Ahab walking on the deck. During the day they scrub the deck. They see Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) with a white leg carved from the jawbone of a whale. Ahab orders Starbuck to call the men. Ahab asks them what they do when they see a whale. He tells them to look for the white whale and offers a gold coin as a reward for whoever finds the whale, and he nails it to a mast. He admits it was Moby Dick who took off his leg. Ahab says they must kill that whale. Ahab passes around a pitcher for them to drink. He orders Starbuck and Stubb to cross their lances, and Ahab grasps the axis. They shout death to the whale.
Below deck the men eat, and the Manxman (Bernard Miles) talks about white Moby Dick. A whale is seen, and the men scramble into boats and pursue it. Queequeg throws the first harpoon into it. The whale pulls the boats by the ropes. Another harpoon causes the whale to bleed. A boat capsizes, and Ishmael asks Queequeg if it happens often.
On board at night the men sing as they cut up the whale and boil the blubber down to precious oil. After casting the bones into the sea, they celebrate. Starbuck advises Ahab to go to bed, but Ahab says his bed is a coffin. Ahab tells him to head for the Pacific. He shows him a chart with the places marked where whales were seen. Starbuck says they can follow the herds. Ahab says they will after their bigger business. He will wait for him at the Bikini islands at the new moon in April. Starbuck says he came to hunt whales and being angry at a dumb beast is blasphemous. Ahab says the white whale is a mask for something else; the crew swore with him. Starbuck warns Ahab to fear himself.
They sail south and around the cape to the Indian Ocean. Ishmael climbs up to the masthead to watch. He says he sees a hundred whales, and Stubbs sees them with a telescope. Men in boats harpoon the whales, and they bleed. Ahab sees another ship, and Captain Boomer (James Robertson Justice) comes aboard. He is missing a hand and has a harpoon-head on a stump. Bloomer mentions he saw a white whale. Ahab asks where he last saw it. Bloomer says it was off the Cape of Good Hope heading toward Madagascar. Ahab orders his men to set sails. Bloomer quickly gets off the ship. Starbuck objects to Ahab. Stubb refuses to get back on board without a good reason, but Ahab orders them.
That night Starbuck warns Stubb that Ahab is mad, and he fears the wrath of God. He says Ahab took them from their work to an unholy quest for vengeance. Starbuck reads a law about a captain who from private motives employs his vessel to another purpose, and he says his crew is legally entitled to wrestle his command from him. Stubb says Starbuck is in dangerous waters.
In April they enter the waters of Bikini, and Ahab orders them to look out. A man falls overboard and sinks. In the heat the sea is calm. Stubb notes the moon is full, and there is no sign of the white whale. The Manxman suggests they throw the gold coin into the sea. Queequeg tosses bits of bones and sees a bad omen. He asks for the carpenter (Noel Purcell) and orders a coffin. He wills his things to Ishmael.
Ishmael tells Queequeg that he has to eat, but he does not move. Starbuck says he has seen it before, men who know they are going to die. Ahab orders Starbuck to wait until eight and then have boats row them out of those waters. A man cuts Queequeg’s chest with a knife, and Ishmael hits the man. They struggle, and the man is about to stab Ishmael when Queequeg grabs the man and strangles him. The lookout sees a whale, and Ahab says it is him. Ahab orders the boats lowered, and he commands one. Birds flock around the boats. Ahab says he is near. Moby Dick breaches and departs. Ahab orders them back to the ship.
They row the boats, pulling the ship. Ahab rows too. The ship sails with the wind, and Ahab gives the gold coin to the man who saw the white whale. Ahab offers his share, ten percent of the profits, to the men when they have killed Moby Dick. They see another ship, and the captain says they harpooned the white whale, which killed his son. The captain asks for help. Starbuck tells Ahab he cannot refuse, but Ahab says he is leaving them to pursue the whale. He orders the blacksmith to melt down harpoons and make better ones. Ahab tells his men to pledge themselves, and he drinks from a pitcher.
On a stormy night Ahab gives orders on deck. Starbuck asks if he should shorten sail, and Ahab says no. Ahab says they are three days behind Moby Dick. The wind is tearing the sails to shreds, and Starbuck warns Ahab. Starbuck takes an ax and cuts the ropes. Ahab orders him to stop or he will kill him with a harpoon. They see green light on the masts and on the harpoon in Ahab’s hand. He puts his hand on it, and the light goes out, saying he is putting out the last fear. Starbuck says he no longer recognizes the crew, but Stubb says that Ahab braved the typhoon. Starbuck gets a pistol and puts it in his pocket.
They sail on a mild day, and Ahab talks to Starbuck. Ahab looks into his eyes, and Starbuck implores that they go home. Ahab asks who is lifting his arm. He asks if God is doing the living. Starbuck cocks his gun. Ahab asks who is doomed when the judge is dragged before the bar. He asks Starbuck why he trembles. Ahab says this was all fore-ordained a billion years ago. Ishmael tells Ahab about Elijah’s prophecy. When Ahab rises, he will beckon, and all save one shall follow. Moby Dick is seen, and Ahab gives orders. Ahab tells the boy to stay on board and be captain in his place.
Ahab commands a boat and speaks about Moby Dick. Stubb encourages his men. They stop and get ready with harpoons. Birds hover, but the whale is not seen. Arab asks the white whale to rise. Moby Dick comes up. Ahab and others throw harpoons into Moby Dick, who pulls the boats. Moby Dick attacks Ahab’s boat. Ahab grabs ahold of the ropes on Moby Dick and stabs him with a lance over and over. Moby Dick goes under water. When it comes up, Ahab is dead and tied to the whale; but his arm seems to be beckoning them. Stubb says so. Starbuck says they must kill Moby Dick. Stubb agrees and orders his men. They attack the whale, and boats capsize. Moby Dick rams the ship, and the boy is killed. The ship spins in a circle and gradually sinks, attacked again by Moby Dick. Ishmael sees the coffin emerge, and he clings to it. The ship they last saw rescues him alone to tell the story.
This drama reflects the importance of the whaling business in the 19th century to provide oil for lamps. The huge mammals are mysterious and are being slaughtered. When one gains some revenge by maiming a captain, he becomes determine to avenge his injury by killing that whale. The religious Starbuck warns that seeking such revenge is unholy and against the purposes of God, and the attempt to get revenge fails.