Old Man and the Sea, The (1958): Hemingway Fable, Starring Spencer Tracy

Ernest Hemingway’s short novel The Old Man and the Sea was considered to be unfilmable before director John Sturges tried to translate it onto the big screen.

Hemingway’s character study concerns an Old Man (Spencer Tracy), a Cuban fisherman who tries to haul in a huge fish. His tiny boat is besieged by sharks and by natural elements, but the Old Man stubbornly sticks to his job. In the end, the fish is nothing more than a skeleton, and the Old Man returns to his tiny hovel to “dream about the lions.”

Spencer Tracy, though miscast, earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination, but the movie is static, dull, and also pretentious.  Hemingway’s fable about human endurance

Hemingway’s wife, Mary, appears as a tourist in a brief scene.

This was the last of four Oscars received by the bright and prolific composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, whose last score was for “Tchaikovsky” in 1970.

James Wong Howe received a nomination for his color cinematography, to which Floyd Crosby and Tom Tutwiler contributed location footage; underwater camera work was done by Lamar Boren.

The Old Man and the Sea was remade as a 1990 made-for-TV movie,  starring Anthony Quinn.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Actor: Spencer Tracy

Score: Dimitri Tiomkin

Cinematography (color): James Hong Howe


Oscar Awards:1


Oscar Context:

David Niven won the Best Actor at his first and only nomination for Separate Tables.  Joseph Ruttenberg received the Cinematography Oscar for the musical Gigi, which swept most of the awards that year.

Running time: 86 minutes

Directed By: John Sturges

Written By: Peter Viertel

DVD: March 13, 2001