Anyone who has read Ernest Hemingway’s short novel The Old Man and the Sea knows that the title pretty much says it all. It is the story of an Old Man (Spencer Tracy) who spends his time fishing in the sea. It makes a great read, for sure. However, filming such a solitary activity is a challenge. Indeed, the movie seems like a bad idea from the start. Despite the Cuban coast locale, American actor Tracy hardly looks like a Cuban fisherman. When he mingles with the local cast, he stands out like an American tourist who doesn’t belong there. There’s also the issue of the permeating narration, done by Tracy himself. It’s a bit disconcerting because the narration is in third person. It’s like Will Ferrell narrating his own story in “Stranger Than Fiction,” instead of Emma Thompson doing the talking.
Miraculously, the film actually works once you see pass all the distractions. When the Old Man gets out into the sea, it is a strange adventure to watch. While it’s quite clear that Tracy is floating on a studio tank, the movie is detailed enough to keep credibility afloat. It knows isolation can make a man talk to himself. Loneliness can conjure up companionships. The sea, the flying fishes, the birds, the wind, and his hands all become secondary characters. Of course, there’s also the really big fish, which the Old Man struggles to battle with. To me, the terse and meaningful Hemingway narration is what redeems the movie. Grand themes of life surface so naturally that by the end, the movie says so much more than most films I’ve watched. Admittedly, the movie’s hook doesn’t quite grab you. But if you’re patient enough, it’s still a catch to watch.
Spencer Tracy, Harry Bellaver, and Felipe Pazos
Based on the novel by