Short stories and novellas (I think technically under 40,000 words this is where Hemingway’s work here falls) often make the best films—less plot for an auteur to try to cover. That does not really work out here in John Sturges’ 1958 film. You cannot call the film a failure (it is in the archives after all)- but it does not sniff the accomplishment of Hemingway’s work (Pulitzer prize winning).
Some location shooting (Cuba, Bahamas) in the opening especially but overall, the film suffers from an abundance of rear projection studio shooting when on the boat.
Reteams Sturges (this is before he’s a massive success and action director of Steve McQueen in the early 1960’s) with star Spencer Tracy after their previous (and superior) effort- 1955’s Bad Day at Black Rock.
In many ways Tracy is good casting- he has a good timbre for Hemingway’s voice/prose: masculine, simple- no BS. But he’s also playing a man named Santiago who doesn’t eat much.
The film is pretty faithful to Hemingway’s work—documenting the routine, the ritual of fishing.- the nobility of the hunter and prey
Vaseline on the lens for the dream sequences- and Sturges here just doesn’t have the imagination to capture the surrealism scenes- Africa and the lions
The Academy showed love to Dimitri Tiomkin for the score (win), James Wong Howe for the cinematography (nom) and Tracy for the acting (nom)- but I can’t say this is a major resume-builder for anyone involved
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