directed by Michael Anderson
(Paramount, 1977)

Orca is the age-old story of revenge from a whole new angle -- that of a killer whale.

Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) is a fisherman living in Newfoundland who just realized there is a lot more money in killer whales than in fishing. In spite of repeated warnings and soulful pleading from Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), a marine biologist working in the region, Nolan goes after a whale.

Nolan harpoons an orca, hauls it onboard and hangs it from the crane above deck. As the whale's mate screams alongside the boat, the suspended one miscarries. Nolan washes the fetus off the deck and heads for South Harbor. Hours later the first mate, Paul (Peter Hooten) notices the female is still breathing. They drop her back into the water.

The male whale pushes his mate into South Harbor and beaches her where Nolan's boat had been moored before being dry-docked. Then the whale begins tearing the harbor apart over a period of several days -- sinking boats, setting the wharf on fire, blowing up the oil refinery and knocking Nolan's house off its pillars and into the water.

Through it all, the local native elder, Umilak (Will Sampson), explains native folklore about whales and tries to convince Nolan that he must face the whale -- because it will never stop until he does. The people of the harbor finally force Nolan to get on his boat and leave the harbor to face the whale in a fight on the open sea -- a fight that takes them all the way to the polar ice cap.

Orca is an outstanding film. This is one well-written story and every role was cast and played ideally. Nolan never stopped evolving from one emotional, psychological and spiritual level to another. He had so many facets to his personality and all seemed to change when placed under stress.

The whale, too, is amazing. The whale tricks and stunts are beyond description: aerial flips and twists, tail waves and slaps, fin waves and straight upward jumps. He is poetry in motion.

This movie is loaded with effects. This film crew demolished a lot of stuff -- boats, houses, piers, a wharf and an oil refinery -- but the effort and expense paid off with a magnificent movie that should always be considered a classic.

Orca is riveting. Every movie buff should have this one in their collection. For the Native American buff, this is one of Will Sampson's better performances.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

11 October 2008

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