The Sea Beast

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The Sea Beast
Directed by Millard Webb
Produced by Warner Brothers
Written by Bess Meredyth
Starring John Barrymore
Dolores Costello
George O'Hara
Cinematography Byron Haskin
Frank Kesson
Edited by Rupert Hughes
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release date(s) January 15, 1926
Running time 100 minutes
Country USA
Language Silent film
English intertitles

The Sea Beast is a 1926 silent film adaptation of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, a story about a monomaniacal hunt for a great white whale. However, the film alters the novel's plotline by establishing prequel (the romancing of Esther) and sequel (Ahab's safe return) elements that are not in the original story, and substitutes a happy ending for Melville's original tragic one.

Some of the characters in the film do not appear in Melville's original novel.

Plot summary[edit]

At the beginning of the story, Ahab (John Barrymore) and his half brother Derek (George O'Hara) compete for the affections of a winsome minister's daughter, Esther Wiscasset (Dolores Costello). Meanwhile, the albino whale has been eluding harpooners, and bears the scars of many failed attacks against him. His fame has reached epic proportions. One day, Ahab and Derek are on the same whaler as the whale heaves into view. Ahab raises his harpoon to kill the beast, but at that moment, Derek pushes him overboard and Ahab loses a right leg to the whale. Not long after this incident, the shallow Esther rebuffs Ahab as her suitor once she catches sight of his peg leg. Heartbroken at this turn of events, Ahab blames neither Esther nor his brother - instead he transfers blame and an undying hatred onto the whale. The following saga of Ahab's pursuit of the whale takes on the aura of a super-human quest, far beyond the proportions of its first motivation.

Production and release[edit]

John Barrymore signed a three film contract with Warner Brothers in 1925 after the success of 1924's Beau Brummel. Barrymore had always wanted to do a film version of Moby Dick and insisted on making this film first rather than the prospected first contract film Don Juan. In retrospect and because of this delay, Don Juan became the first Warner feature to have the Vitaphone soundtrack rather than The Sea Beast.

One of the most popular of Barrymore's films, this version extends the story beyond the final battle of man versus whale in a variation on Melville's book. Adding publicity to the film was a bit of early Hollywood hype, unintentional though it may seem: the actress Priscilla Bonner was fired by Barrymore from the role of Wiscasset, in preference for his lover, actress Dolores Costello, and Bonner successfully sued the studio and won a considerable out-of-court settlement.

Due to the popularity of this film, an all-talking version was released in 1930 under Melville's original book title, with Barrymore again in the role of Captain Ahab. The 1930 film used the plotline of The Sea Beast rather than following Melville's novel. A German-language version, Daemon des Mers, was filmed simultaneously in Hollywood by Warner Bros. It was directed by William Dieterle, beginning his American career.


See also[edit]


  • Mannikka, Eleanor. "The Sea Beast". Retrieved 2007-02-28. 

External links[edit]