Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Old Man and the Sea: Anthony Quinn Version of the Film Is Worthwhile

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."
--Ernest Hemingway

I first read The Old Man and the Sea in high school English class. I recall the teacher drawing attention to the symbolism, hoping to teach that there's more to a story than simply a good read.

The original novel by Ernest Hemingway was compact, a novella rather than an epic like War and Peace or Moby Dick. Since the description of the film already gives away everything, there is no "spoiler alert" on this brief review.

The Hemingway novel won accolades for its author, Ernest Hemingway. Written in 1951 and published in 1952, it's probably one of his most famous novels and certified his selection as Nobel Laureate in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative." The book also garnered for Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Seeking to capitalize on Hemingway's fame at the time, Hollywood released a film starring Spencer Tracy as Santiago in 1958. The old Cuban fisherman has been going through a slump lately. Believing his luck can change, he decides to launch out into deeper waters in search of larger game, and the hope of redemption. In typical Hemingway style, he only experiences more bad luck. Ah yes, he catches the biggest fish anyone has ever seen, but the sharks have their way with it and by the time he is home, all that's left are the bones.

In 1990, a made-for-TV version of the story was released, this time starring Anthony Quinn. Quinn is perfectly cast as Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman. 

There are actually six characters in this film. There is the old man, Santiago. And there is the youth who cares about him, brings him food, admires and looks up to him. Their touching friendship is noticed by a writer who is taking notes and finding the relationship between the boy and the old man to be curious, if not fascinating. The writer has a wife who has become bored with the mundane lives of Caribbean fisherman. The fifth character is the marlin. The sharks would be the sixth and final character in the story.

There are books and films with too many characters to give definition to. There are also films with characters introduced too quickly for the viewer to car about and embrace. This Anthony Quinn film gives us three characters you really care about: Santiago, Manolin (his devoted adolescent assistant), and the fish, which is more than a fish, much the same as Moby Dick was more than a whale.  

The writer and his wife were not in the book, nor were they in the Spencer Tracy version of the movie. Their dialogue is somewhat stilted and people who prefer the 1958 version point to their insertion into the story as a muddying of the storyline. 

The earlier version received a 7.0 rating from on viewers. This one has a 6.7 rating. Nevertheless, nearly everyone agrees that Anthony Quinn became a more authentic Santiago.

The old man's battle with the marlin brought back memories of deep sea fishing with my father off the coast of Miami. When Anthony Quinn first hooks the big fish, it reminded me of my father when he hooked the Grouper, which was the largest fish caught that day. (I think everyone put in $5.00 or some amount, and whoever caught the biggest fish took the prize.) My dad, who grew up in Ohio where we fished in ponds, lakes and streams, said that it felt like getting hooked on an underwater log.  Out on the ocean, our hooks were a long ways from the bottom, however.

A second scene from the film brought to mind my own battle with a Bonita. My line got all tangled so that I was unable to reel it in. We were trolling at the time. I began pulling in the fish with my hands, the line cutting my fingers. In the film, Santiago likewise has to pull in the fish with his hands, which also were bleeding. He wrapped rags around his hands like bandages, but what I remember most is the sting of the saltwater.

The cinematography is effective, especially when the Marlin breaks the surface for the first time. It really would be an awesome thing to see or, even better, to experience. 

I also have a third memory from our deep sea fishing excursion. When we disembarked on the dock, the boat alongside us had a 1,000-pound Hammerhead Shark cinched and hanging from a mast. That was one impressive fish as well.

The story ends with a thoroughly defeated hero. This blog post will end with a pair of quotes from the book.

--Every day above earth is a good day.

--Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.

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