Old fisherman Santiago (Anthony Quinn) has not caught a fish in 85 days. He is idolized by a young boy named Manola (Alexis Cruz), who brings him food and talks baseball with him.
Santiago goes out in his boat again, hoping for good luck. After drifting far from shore, he finally hooks a large fish. He is forced to wait for the fish to tire, as he is not strong enough to pull it in. The fish pulls the boat further out for most of the next day before it finally surfaces and
Santiago is able to harpoon it. Lashing it to his boat, he sets back to Cuba. By the morning of the third day, the carcass of the fish begins to be attacked by sharks who eventually leave nothing but a skeleton. As the film ends, an exhausted Santiago makes it back to shore, the sight of the great
fish's carcass wins the respect of his fellow fisherman, and he and the boy vow to fish together again.
This film adaptation of Hemingway's tale adds three new central characters. Among them are a lazy American writer (Gary Cole) and his wife. The couple bicker constantly, but the writer eventually finally finds redemption--and a story--in the old man's saga. Also added to the story is Santiago's
daughter (Valentina Quinn), who shows up twice to implore her father to settle with her in Havana.
The near-perfect casting of Anthony Quinn stands out in this otherwise weak adaptation. Quinn conveys just the right amount of weariness, foolishness, and stubbornness to bring Santiago to life. Despite an occasional melodramatic moment, such as his posing Ahab-like with a harpoon, he delivers a
very strong performance.
The additions to the book, unfortunately, stand as unnecessary filler. The American couple seem as if they were taken directly from The Snows of Kilimanjaro and are absolutely passionless, even as they grow closer. Part of the problem with filming Hemingway's novel lies with the book itself,
however. The device the film uses of having Santiago constantly talk to himself hardly compensates for the long interior monologue of the book, but there is no other way to show what Santiago is thinking. Still, the story should stand alone; this film's mistakes begin the moment it strays from the
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This made-for-TV version of Ernest Hemingway's novel expands the book's story line and by doing so, weakens its impact.