The Big Fisherman (1959)

Genres - Drama, Epic  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Religious Epic  |   Run Time - 180 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Craig Butler

Earnest and well-intentioned but weighed down by a screenplay that takes a story many would consider pure gold and turns it into pure lead, The Big Fisherman will be best appreciated by those with a fervid fondness for 1950's Biblical epics and/or those with deeply held Christian beliefs. If a viewer doesn't fall into one or both of those categories (and in some cases, even if one does), Fisherman is apt to be a bit of a struggle. While Rowland V. Lee and Howard Estabrook's dull and lifeless screenplay is the main culprit, matters aren't helped by director Frank Borzage, whose ability to transform overly lush romantic melodramas into enjoyable films seems to have deserted him here. Perhaps Borzage felt constricted by the necessary reverence that must accompany Biblical sagas; whatever the reason, his work is curiously plodding here and not helped by the film's 3-hour running time. All that said, however, Fisherman does have some considerable assets, such as a hard working cast headed by a strong and willful Howard Keel and including a deliciously vicious Herbert Lom, a sensuous Martha Hyer and a marvelously oily Jonathan Harris. If John Saxon is a bit one-dimensional and Susan Kohner doesn't convince as a woman intent on murdering her father, they are at least quite lovely to look at. Lee Garmes cinematography is gorgeous, and the film has some lavish sets and costumes that are also pluses. These don't add up to a great film, but they do help to make the defects more bearable.