Peter’s Retro Reviews: Orca (1977)

June 16, 2014

Orca poster 2by Peter Nielsen

Captain Nolan: He loved his family… more than I loved mine.”

Let’s stay in the 70’s a little while longer, shall we? I mean, there were a lot of great movies made in that decade too, wouldn’t you agree? The movie I’ve chosen this week is certainly one of them. Well… at least in my opinion it is!

I’ve seen Orca many times but it has arguably been a while since the last time. I think I first watched it together with my dad, if memory serves me right. I’m not sure if I bought it on VHS for us to watch or if we caught it on TV one night… not important, I guess. What is important though

is that we watched it and liked it, and watching it again last night I found that I still like it. Very much so even!

Orca was directed by Michael Anderson who also did Logan’s Run and The Wreck of the Mary Deare to name a couple, and as I was watching the opening credits, a couple of other names caught my eyes… Apart from the cast, of course!

Charlotte Rampling and Richard Harris

Charlotte Rampling and Richard Harris

The music was done by Ennio Morricone, which, in itself, is awesome! I’d actually forgotten that he did the score for this one, and it’s a great one, by the way!

Another name I recognized was that of Sergio Donati, who wrote the screenplay, but I couldn’t remember where the hell I’d seen his name before… so I checked! He wrote the screenplay for one of my all time favorite movies, namely Once Upon A Time In The West! No wonder I recognized his name! He also co-wrote movies like Duck, You Sucker aka A Fistful of Dynamite and Raw Deal, to mention a few more.

"I'm hunting wabbits... uhm, I mean killer whales"

“I’m hunting wabbits… uhm, I mean killer whales”

The movie opens with two orcas, a male and a female, playing happily in the ocean. They’re obviously a pair and we hear them singing to each other. It’s actually pretty sweet! We then switch scene to a couple of marine biologists recording whale song and one of them is in the water checking the equipment. The diver is named Rachel and is played by Charlotte Rampling, an actress you might recognize from movies like The Night Porter, D.O.A. and The Verdict. While at the bottom she notices a great white shark approaching and decides to surface.

The shark is chased by the crew of the fishing boat “Bumpo”, whose captain wants to catch it and sell it to an aquarium. Because of the two biologists they miss their chance and the crew is understandably a bit ticked off. When the shark turns around and comes back, it seems as if they’ll get another chance though. In the ensuing hustle and bustle, the other biologist, Ken, falls overboard and the shark sets its sights on him. Before the crew on the fishing boat can get to him, he’s saved by a killer whale barreling down on the great white, ripping it to pieces. This impresses Captain Nolan so much that he instead of a great white, now wants to catch a killer whale, but considering how things turn out, he probably should have thrown that thought overboard right after it’d entered his mind.

Hoisting the female onboard.

Hoisting the female onboard.

Captain Nolan is portrayed exceptionally well by Richard Harris. I’m sure you recognize his name, but I’ll just mention a couple of titles to jolt your memory, in case you don’t… A Man Called Horse and its sequels, The Cassandra Crossing, The Wild Geese and the first two Harry Potter movies.

Nolan is a slightly bitter Irishman who kind of gave up on feelings after losing his wife and kid in an auto accident with a drunk driver. Against better judgment he sets out to catch a killer whale, but things go terribly wrong and he ends up mortally wounding a pregnant female. She gets tangled in the spear-gun’s line, panics and ultimately tries to kill herself on the boat’s propeller. When the crew finally manages to get the bleeding whale onboard she has a miscarriage on deck, all while her mate is watching from the surface.

This whole sequence is absolutely horrific to watch, with the chaos, the blood, the fetus on deck and the male screaming desperately for his mate and unborn baby.

Pulling down houses!

Pulling down houses!

All through the movie we learn, from Rachel, about killer whales and how they’re able to have almost human feelings like love and compassion, but also anger and hatred. And as one of the locals, Umilak, played by Will Sampson (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Outlaw Josey Wales) says… “They never forget, even though many years pass, anyone who harms them”. All this should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt or two, but it makes a great premise for a movie, wouldn’t you agree? Although, if you read up on them… orcas are actually a highly intelligent species and it’s quite remarkable what they’re capable of, so maybe the idea’s not so outlandish after all, huh?

The crew cuts the female loose and she dies in her mate’s arms, so to speak. It’s a very moving and sad moment when he pushes her lifeless body up onto shore to kind of show everyone what Captain Nolan has done. And now… it’s all about revenge!

Nolan has no desire to venture out to sea again, but the orca wants his ass big time and starts attacking the small fishing town. It even tears down Nolan’s house… and no, it’s not actually as farfetched as it sounds. It’s right by the water front, half built on piles, so all the orca has to do is knock those down for the house to fall.

It also attacks and destroys the boats in the town harbor, but leaves Nolan’s boat alone… Remember, it wants him to follow it out to sea. He doesn’t want to do that, even though he’s sorry for what he’s done, but he knows that it ultimately comes down to either him or the killer whale!

Nowhere to go!

Nowhere to go!

Orca is a great drama-thriller with a good story and a superb cast. Ok, so the story might not be anything we haven’t seen before or overly complicated, but it’s still interesting and gripping. The psychological “battle” between man and beast is actually my favorite aspect of the movie.

Apart from the cast-members I’ve already mentioned there is also Keenan Wynn (Black Moon Rising, Piranha) as Novak, Peter Hooten from The Soldier and the original The Inglorious Bastards as Paul, and rounding up Nolan’s crew is Annie. She’s played by Bo Derek in her debut role. She’s also known from Tarzan, the Ape Man and 10, for instance. I love the latter one, 10, and have seen it several times! Dudley Moore is great in that one! The last cast-member I’m going to mention is the actor playing Rachel’s colleague Ken. It’s Robert Carradine… yup, Lewis Skolnick in Revenge of the Nerds.

I’ll finish this review with a little mention of the effects in Orca… They really are amazing; the animatronic whales look very, very realistic and it’s hard to tell them apart from the real whales that were used. I’m even going to be so bold as to say that, in some scenes the effects even surpass the ones used in the movie Jaws.

And with that statement, I’m leaving you this week! Please tell me what YOU think about this movie in the comment section below!

Until next time…

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