Sermon of Father Mapple

Sunday, August 28, AD 2016

John Huston’s film Moby Dick (1956) is a true work of genius.  The only film version worthy of the novel, the screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury who in 10,000 words  got to the essence of the 206,052 word novel.  (Bradbury confessed when he was approached by Huston to do the screenplay that he had never been able to get through the novel.)  A deeply religious film that asks questions about God and the human condition that still  jar us, the most striking scene is the sermon on Jonah by Father Mapple, portrayed unforgettably by Orson Welles.  Enoch Mudge who served as the chaplain of the Seaman’s Bethel in New Bedford and Father E.T. Taylor who served as the chaplain of the Seaman Bethel in Boston, served as the real life models for the fictional Mapple. (At the time of Melville any clergyman of age or authority was often accorded the title “Father” by his parishioners in Protestant churches, a distinction retained today only by Catholics, the Orthodox and a few Protestant churches.)

Welles suffered from a bad case of stage fright just prior to the scene and John Huston produced a bottle to help Welles fortify himself.  Welles then did the scene letter perfect in one take.  Here is the text of the sermon as written by Bradbury for the film:

And God prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command, and it was, for all the things that God would have us do are hard. If we would obey God, we must disobey ourselves.
But Jonah still further flouts at God by seeking to flee from him. Jonah thinks that a ship made by men will carry him into countries where God does not reign. He prowls among the shipping like a vile burglar, hastening to cross the seas, and as he comes aboard the sailors mark him.
The ship puts out, but soon the sea rebels. It will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes up. The ship is like to break. The bo’s’n calls all hands to lighten her. Boxes, bales and jars are clattering overboard, the wind is shrieking, the men are yelling. “I fear the Lord!” cries Jonah, “the God of Heaven who has made the sea and the dry land!”
Again, the sailors mark him. And wretched Jonah cries out to them to cast him overboard, for he knew that for his sake this great tempest was upon them.
Now behold Jonah, taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea, into the dreadful jaws awaiting him. And the great whale shoots to all his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison.
And Jonah cries unto the Lord, out of the fish’s belly. But observe his prayer, shipmates. He doesn’t weep and wail, he feels his punishment is just. He leaves deliverance to God. And even out of the belly of Hell, grounded upon the ocean’s utmost bones, God heard him when he cried. And God spake unto the whale, and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the deep, the whale breached into the sun and vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
And Jonah, bruised and beaten, his ears like two seashells still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean … Jonah did the Almighty’s bidding, and what was that, shipmates? To preach the truth in the face of falsehood! 
Now, shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled water when God has brewed them into a gale. Yeah, woe to him who, as the pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway! But delight is to him who against the proud gods and commodores of this Earth, stands forth his own inexorable self, who destroys all sin, though we pluck it out from under the robes of senators, and judges. And eternal delight shall be his who, coming to lay him down, can say “Oh father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be thine, more than to be this world’s or mine own, yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to thee, for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?


Here is the much, much lengthier version from the novel  (Too bad that time prevented Ray Bradbury from serving as Melville’s editor!)

Continue reading...

2 Responses to Sermon of Father Mapple

  • That sermon, as are the Gospels, is pertinent today as it was in sailing ship days and when St. Peter was still fishing for fish, not men. St. Peter, pray for us. .
    It reminds me of a priest’s sermon (I found on the net) on St. Dismus’ conversion and redemption on a cross next to Jesus’ Cross.
    The priest noted that St. Dismus acknowledged his guilt (and Jesus’ innocence) and the justice in Dismus’ execution. St. Dismus did not ask that his punishment be eased. He asked that Jesus remember Dismus when He came into His Kingdom. St. Dismus showed humility – the theme of today’s scripture readings – along with Faith, Hope and Love of Jesus who suffered next to him. And, Dismus acknowledged true repentance/contrition for his sins.
    Twenty or thirty years ago, I made it through Moby Dick (MD). I also read a number of Melville’s shorter South Seas sailor novels. In addition to the deep-running themes, MD is an encyclopedia of whaling. I recommend Joseph Conrad’s sea novels, as well.
    St. Elmo, pray for us.

  • God will save us despite ourselves if only we admit our error and seek his help.

Report From the Aleutians

Thursday, June 13, AD 2013

If there is a forgotten theater where American troops fought in World War II, it is most definitely the Aleutians.  The Japanese took Attu and Kiska, islands in the Aleutian chain,  in June of 1942, to forestall the Aleutians being used as a base for a move on the Japanese Home Islands from the Aleutians.  Due to the rugged weather conditions, the US had never seriously entertained using the Aleutians as a staging area for future offensives.  However, Attu and Kiska were American territory, and national pride, as well as alarm from the Alaskan territorial government, made inevitable an American campaign to take back the strategically worthless islands.

Continue reading...

2 Responses to Report From the Aleutians

  • The film mentions that Attu and Kiska were uninhabited. This is incorrect.

    Technically Kiska was, for the only people there were the members of a U.S. Navy meteorological station. Attu, on the other hand, had about 880 residents. The Alaskan government had imposed a mandatory evacuation before the Japanese arrived, but 47 residents were still present on the day of the invasion, and 42 survived the summary executions that day. These 42 were taken to a camp in Japan, and only 26 survived to the end of the war.

    It is a real shame that we forget the suffering of these Americans, and that of the U.S. citizens of Guam. These were the two places where Americans directly faced the enemy in World War Two in their homes. Other atrocities happened in the massacre of the U.S. contractors and Marines on Wake and of course in the Philippines. We should always remember.

  • My wife’s late grandfather, Elmer Pulaski, was in the Navy during WWII and was in the Aleutians. Didn’t like talking about it.

The Battle of San Pietro

Friday, April 26, AD 2013

Probably the most realistic depiction of World War II combat put to film, The Battle of San Pietro, in the public domain, is now considered a minor masterpiece.  At the time of its release in 1945 it was intensely controversial.  Fought between December 8-17 in 1943, the assault of the 143rd Infantry of the 36th Division was filmed by Captain John Huston, who was making films for the Army, a rare case where the Army actually made use of the civilian expertise of one of its soldiers.  Huston’s film shows war in all of its unglamorous horror.  After the Hollywood depiction of war during World War II it came as an unpleasant revelation for viewers.  Army brass were concerned about the film having a depressing effect on the morale of the troops.  Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, however, came to the defense of the film, thinking that it would make a good training film, underlining to troops why they had to take their training seriously.  The film was used in training and Huston was promoted to major.

Continue reading...

Red Badge of Courage

Wednesday, March 20, AD 2013

He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

I recently was watching The Red Badge of Courage, (1951) and I was struck yet again by what a forgotten masterpiece it is.  Filmed in stark black and white, the film has almost a documentary feel to it, as if a World War II era newsreel camera had magically transplanted itself to the Civil War.  The combat scenes are highly realistic depictions of Civil War combat, and the actors speak and act like Civil War soldiers and not like 1951 actors dressed up in Civil War costumes.

As one critic said at the time, watching the film is like watching a Matthew Brady photograph of the Civil War come to life.

It was a stroke of genius for director John Huston to have as star of his film Audie Murphy, as the youth who, in Stephen Crane’s unforgettable novel, has his first taste of combat in the Civil War.  Murphy looked like a typical Hollywood “pretty boy” but he was anything but.  From a family of 12 in Texas, Murphy had dropped out of school in the fifth grade to support his family after his father ran off.    His mother died in 1941.  In 1942 he enlisted in the Army at 16, lying about his birthday, partially to support his family and partially because he dreamed of a military career.  By the end of the war, before his 19th birthday, he was a second lieutenant and had earned in hellish combat a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, a French Legion of Honor, a French Croix de Guerre, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.  He was the most decorated soldier of the US Army in World War 2.

Murphy’s co-star in the film was also an Army combat veteran, Bill Mauldin, the famed cartoonist who drew the Willie and Joe cartoons in Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper, during World War II.

Continue reading...

2 Responses to Red Badge of Courage

Let There Be Light

Sunday, September 16, AD 2012

to care for him who shall have borne the battle

Abraham Lincoln

During World War II director John Huston produced three films for the US government.  Let There Be Light was shot for the Army Signal Corps.  It covers the treatment of 75 US soldiers traumatized by their combat experiences in World War II.  The film is narrated by Walter Huston, the academy award-winning actor father of John Huston.  The Army brass did not like the finished product, thinking that its focus on men who suffered psychological damage from their service could be demoralizing to the troops, and banned the film on the grounds that it invaded the privacy of the soldiers featured in the film and that the releases they signed had been lost.  (This reason was pretextual, but as a matter of law I would not place any reliance on a release signed by someone undergoing mental treatment standing up for an instant in court.)

Continue reading...

4 Responses to Let There Be Light

  • Let there be light to know, to love, and to serve the Lord, the Lord, Who made all persons and keeps them in existence.

    The men, even in their most disarranged mental condition, never committed a crime, never broke the law. The men stayed honest and decent. Giving these men a job would never be a risk, but an appreciative thank you for their service and their suffering.

    At 35, there is an hypnosis of a young man. Be aware that this kind of viewing can cause some of the audience to be hypnotized, or so I have heard, and may be part of the reason that the film was not immediately released. I am not any kind of doctor, and I knew the doctor would bring the patient into the present and the doctor did, all the better for it.

    Audie Murphy wrote a book: TO HELL AND BACK about his WWII experience.

    An after thought. Soldiers are known as Government Issue, G.I.s. The government commandeers the soldiers’ time and energy but the government cannot own the soldiers’ sovereignty, the soldiers’ personhood. Government can commandeer the soldiers’ time and energy in the pursuit of Justice and Freedom, but does not own the soldiers’ conscience. This film explains this and is timely when Obama is imposing martial law on the civilians, as though he owns us.

  • Mary.
    I think you will find that G I stands for General Infantry – the Ground Troops – the foot sloggers- the Grunts, as they are called in the US Army, I believe.
    Down our way, during WW II and since, our infantry were known amongst the troops as the PBI – the Poor Bloody Infantry , because of all the difficult and dangerous work they had to do on the ground.

  • I have always liked the term Poor Bloody Infantry Don, as it perfectly describes both the gripe and the pride of the average dogface.

  • Actually, its interesting that you do this post on WW II at this time. I am presently typing up for our family, my father’s diary that he kept spasmodically during his time in Italy during WW II. He was in the 27th.Machine gun Battallion, attached to the NZ Maori Battallion, and on the 6th.Sept. 1944, they had moved near to a village called Mondolfa (his writing is difficult to read after nearly 70 years.) near the Adriatic coast. At this time, they are preparing for the Battle of Rimini.

    “15th.Sept.1944. Our bombers and fighters are passing overhead constantly, have seen numbers of formations of approx. 50 bombers at a time. Went for a swim. Only 10 mins. walk from the beach. Swimming around, decided to have a spell, and came to rest on a bloody mine. Did I get moving. (I remember Dad telling us of this when I was a kid – reckoned he made a huge bow wave to the shore 🙂 )”

    “Sat. 16th.Sept. Moved up through the Gothic Line today. The towms and bridges are well bashed about. Bivvie (bivouac – pitch shelter) within 10 miles of the front line. Could see the shells landing on enemy territory. One long range enemy shell landed in the village 1/2 a mile away. Climbed some high ground after tea and watched artillery duels – could see strikes on the enemy held ridge overlooking Rimini – an attack was going in and was an unusual sight.”

    Its fascinating reading and typing what my Dad was doing this day 66 years ago and stating it in his usual understating style, and a bit emotional. Dad died on the 11th. December 2005 – the same day my youngest grand-daughter was baptised – aged 93 years. A few months after this diary entry, Dad suffered a back injury from lifting heavy ammunition cases, and was later re-patriated, and had an experimental spinal operation which left him having to take pain relief for the rest of his life.
    (This comment got a bit out of control, didn’t it. 🙂 )
    Rest in the Love of God, Arthur Hamilton Beckett.