Urban Cinefile
"The most important thing 'Front Up' has taught me about people is NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING"  -Andrew L. Urban
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Aging Cuban fisherman (Spencer Tracy) has gone 84 days without a catch. Gently mocked by the other fishermen, he is considered to be such bad luck that his only companion, a young boy (Felipe Pazos), is barred by his father from accompanying him to sea. On the 85th day the old man hooks the biggest Marlin he has ever seen. For three days and nights he battles the fish with nothing for company save the line in his hand and the thoughts in his head, a trial of mental and physical courage--and the ultimate test of his worth as a man.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
How do you film the unfilmable? Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning parable is a great book, but its lure is in the writer’s elegantly crafted prose. The book is essentially an internal monologue, the old man alone at sea, with only himself and the giant fish to which he is tied for company. The message conveyed in words more than filmable deeds.

Director John Sturges’s solution was to have Hemingway’s words recited as a voiceover for the entire length of the movie. The effect is the cinematic equivalent of the audio book, an over-literary adaptation that has its weaknesses and its charms. The score won a well deserved Oscar and cinematography is pretty enough, too. But you can’t help wondering what a true poet of the cinema might make of the material. A Michaelangelo Antonioni or Akira Kurosawa could perhaps have done away with the voiceover, conveying the spirit of Hemingway’s novella without the need for words. It would certainly make for an interesting comparison, although it would also deny us the pleasure of Spencer Tracy’s lilting voice. Tracy doesn’t always look the part as the old man. He has that movie star twinkle in his eye and is younger and altogether less Cuban than Hemingway’s humble hero. But his recital of Papa’s words is sublime.

Hemingway himself pops up in a café cameo in the movie, and the DVD’s text-only description of the production reveals that the author was so closely involved with the making of the film that he directed second unit shots from his own boat. More footage of the great man is included in a three-minute reel of a Caribbean fishing trip he took with documentary filmmaker Allen H. Miner. Hemingway proudly strings up a Marlin of his own, although not one big enough to match the old man’s in the story, which is depicted by splicing in documentary footage of the then world-record catch. The squeamish should note that many animals appear to have been harmed in the making of this feature. That macho blusterer Hemingway probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Published February 7, 2002

Email this article

You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia

(US) (1958)

CAST: Spencer Tracy, Felipe Pazos, Harry Bellaver

DIRECTOR: John Sturges

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen; Cast and crew; Awards; Theatrical trailer; Behind the scenes; Hemingway: The Legend and the Sea. Languages: English, French. Subtitles: English, French.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: February 4, 2002

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020