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The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film)

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Adventure, Drama

Adapted from
United States


Initial release
October 11, 1958 (USA)

Story by


The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film) movie poster

John SturgesHenry KingFred Zinnemann (Uncredited)

Based on
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway (novel), Peter Viertel

(The Old Man),
Felipe Pazos
(The Boy), (Martin), (Cafe Proprietor)

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SPENCER TRACY in his most suspenseful role...ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S story of Heroism...Defeat...Victory!

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The Old Man and the Sea is a 1958 American adventure drama film directed by John Sturges with uncredited direction from Henry King and Fred Zinnemann. The screenplay (the "most literal, word-for-word rendition of a written story ever filmed") was adapted by Peter Viertel from the novella of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.


The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film) movie scenes

Dimitri Tiomkin won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on the film, which was also nominated for best color cinematography. The same year, Tracy was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film) movie scenes


The Old Man and the Sea (1958 film) wwwgstaticcomtvthumbmovieposters9994p9994p

The Old Man in the film is a Cuban fisherman who has gone 84 days without a catch. His only friend is a young teenager whose name is Jabby who has been barred by his father from accompanying the Old Man out to sea. On the Old Man's 85th day out, he finally hooks a huge marlin, which he then tries to bring in and haul in from far out from shore. For three days and nights he battles the fish, which is portrayed in the film (as it had been in Hemingway's novella) as a trial of mental and physical courage that becomes the ultimate test for him of his worth as a man.


  • Spencer Tracy as The Old Man
  • Felipe Pazos Jr. as Manolin
  • Harry Bellaver as Martin
  • Don Diamond as Café proprietor
  • Don Blackman as Arm wrestler
  • Joey Ray as a gambler
  • Richard Alameda as a gambler
  • Tony Rosa as a gambler
  • Carlos Rivero as a gambler
  • Robert Alderette as a gambler
  • Don Alvarado (uncredited) as a waiter
  • Production

    The director originally assigned to the film was Fred Zinnemann, but he withdrew, and was replaced by John Sturges. The film's budget, originally $2 million, grew to $5 million "in search of suitable fish footage." Sturges called it "technically the sloppiest picture I have ever made."

    According to Turner Classic Movies, a February 2005 CNN article points out that The Old Man and the Sea was one of the first films to "use a bluescreen compositing technology invented by Arthur Widmer, that combined actors on a soundstage with a pre-filmed background."

    The credits note that "Some of the marlin film used in this picture was of the world's record catch by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. at the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club in Peru. Mr. Glassell acted as special advisor for these sequences."


    Veteran film composer Dimitri Tiomkin composed and conducted the music for the film. His soundtrack recording, with the Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra, was recorded in the auditorium of Hollywood Post No. 43, American Legion, in Hollywood; Billboard reported that the acoustics in the Hollywood Legion were "far superior to most studio space in Hollywood and similar to that of the best concert halls." During the week of April 21, 1958, Columbia held open sessions for The Old Man and the Sea at the Legion Hall. The soundtrack was later released in both stereo and mono by Columbia Records.


    Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

    Credit Leland Hayward for trying something off the beaten track in making a motion-picture version of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and credit Spencer Tracy for a brave performance in its one big role. Also credit Dimitri Tiomkin for providing a musical score that virtually puts Mr. Tracy in the position of a soloist with a symphony. And that just about completes a run-down of the praiseworthy aspects of this film.

    Among the film's shortcomings, Crowther notes, is that "an essential feeling of the sweep and surge of the open sea is not achieved in precise and placid pictures that obviously were shot in a studio tank. There are, to be sure, some lovely long shots of Cuban villages and the colorful coast...But the main drama, that of the ordeal, is played in a studio tank, and even some fine shots of a marlin breaking the surface and shaking in violent battle are deflated by obvious showing on the process screen."

    Time noted that "the script follows the book in almost every detail", but called the novel a fable "no more suitable for the screen than The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". Time pointed out that Tracy was "never permitted to catch a marlin" while on location, so the "camera could never catch him at it" and the result is "Sturges must cross-cut so interminably—fish, Tracy, fish, Tracy—that Old Man loses the lifelikeness, the excitement, and above all the generosity of rhythm that the theme requires.

    According to producer Hayward, Hemingway was pleased with the film, and said it had "a wonderful emotional quality and [he] is very grateful and pleased with the transference of his material to the screen. He thought Tracy was great (in light of his quarrels with him this is quite a compliment) ... the photography was excellent ... the handling of the fishing and mechanical fish very good. Had some minor dislikes ... but all in all he was terribly high on the picture and pleased with it."


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