blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

A Whale of a Tale (1976, Ewing Miles Brown)

A Whale of a Tale is very much not a “whale” of a tale. The film’s about a little kid (Scott C. Kolden) who spends a summer working at Marineland of the Pacific. While Marineland clearly let the film production shoot on location, it also feels very much like the whole venture is Marineland-produced. At its best, Tale feels like an extended commercial for the park, complete with lengthy sequences showcasing its attractions.

It’s also not very animals’ rights. At one point, Kolden chastises Orky the Orca (a real-life Marineland attraction) for not wanting to perform even though people paid good money to see a show. Marineland’s the bestest oceanarium in the world… or at least America (inside joke you hopefully don’t get), and it’s really neat they let Kolden work there, even though his evil aunt Nancy O’Connor thinks it’s too dangerous a place. Kolden lives with aunt O’Connor and mom Abby Dalton. Dalton’s a recent-ish widow, and they’ve moved close enough Kolden can walk to the park from home, sneaking out so O’Connor doesn’t know.

For a while, the film’s biggest drama is whether or not Dalton’s going to let Kolden work at the park, but once Dalton meets handsome and single marine biologist William Shatner, the writing’s on the wall. Despite Shatner initially considering Kolden a pest, he soon comes to like the kid. And especially like the mom.

Sort of. Just like everyone else in the film, Shatner’s utterly lacking in character. All of his character’s busy work throughout is nonsense. Someone’s training the dolphins to do some kind of Navy rescue thing or something. The details don’t matter because they’re nonsense. Shatner and the other actors deliver their lines like someone’s feeding them off-screen. And then there are the times there’s obvious looping, like when Shatner and park fisherman Marty Allen are around the real animals and clearly trying not to get whacked by a killer whale. Shatner does better than Allen, which isn’t saying much, but there aren’t any good performances in Whale. Director Brown’s not capable of directing good performances or writing good parts.

Though there is an okay enough cameo from Andy Devine, who doesn’t have the lung capacity he did as a younger man, but occasionally still sounds familiar. Richard Arlen’s the other big cameo, as the park owner. Even more than Devine, Arlen’s just there for a familiar name in the credits.

The film was shot in the early seventies, then sat around for a few years. Then, in the interim, Jaws came out, and the lethargic tiger shark capture sequence—which seems to go on for ten minutes—ends with similar but not too similar music to John Williams. What’s more amusing is the first half of the sequence, when you wish they’d have some Jaws music just so it wouldn’t be boring, only for it to come in later and still be boring.

The animal showcases don’t feature composer Jonathan Cain’s songs, which are inane and from the perspective of Kolden. School and aunt O’Connor suck, and life’s so much better at Marineland. It’s also unclear why Marineland okayed the plot, which has Kolden become the most invaluable employee in the park. Literally. Can’t run without him. You go see Whale of a Tale and go to Marineland; if Kolden weren’t there, the place couldn’t run.

But then putting any thought whatsoever into Whale is way too much.

Director Brown and editor Ronald V. Ashcroft also endeavor to push the audience throughout, constantly repeating the same thirty seconds of carnival music in the park scenes.

Whale could be worse. It’s an absolute bore, but it’s just a bloated, inept industrial film with a mostly slumming cast. While Kolden’s bad—but he can’t be good with Brown’s writing and directing—he’s far from the worst kid actor in the world–or even America.

But Whale’s not even worth it for the curiosity factor. Especially not since Marineland of the Pacific showed up in lots of popular entertainment. If you want to see the park in its heyday, you might even be able to find a movie or show you can stay awake during.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: