Namu, the Killer Whale (1966)


(director: László Benedek; screenwriter: Arthur Weiss; cinematographer: Lamar Boren; editor: Erwin Drumbille; music: Samuel Matlovsky; cast: Robert Lansing (Hank Donner), John Anderson (Joe Clausen), Robin Mattson (Lisa Rand), Richard Erdman (Deke), Lee Meriwether (Kate Rand), Joe Higgins (Burt), Michael Shea (Nick), Edwin Rochelle (Charlie), Clara Tarte (Carrie); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: László Benedek/Ivan Tors; UA/MGM; 1966)

“I found it to be a whale of a film, a superior children’s film that adults might also enjoy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Namu” is a well-made family offering pic about a bachelor research marine biologist, Hank Donner (Robert Lansing), who gives sanctuary in his private small cove to a giant ocean predator (a killer whale). He befriends a sweet little blonde-haired girl in pigtails, Lisa Rand (Robin Mattson), who follows his lead and also befriends the so-called monster. This causes others in the fishing village to change their bad opinion and fearful suspicions, as in its climax it depicts the battle between the forces of ignorance (the fishermen) and knowledge (the scientist).

Naturally Lisa has a sweet attractive single mom, Kate (Lee Meriwether), whose diver husband vanished in the sea. That incident left the girl having nightmares about monsters, until Hank shows her that Namu is not a monster. He names the whale Namu from a fairy-tale story about a little princess who was the only one to talk to the monster named Namu, and because of the little girl’s love for him the monster turned into a prince. Namu’s not quite as showy as Free Willy, but it’s well-acted and scripted. I found it to be a whale of a film, a superior children’s film that adults might also enjoy. It’s based on Lansing’s true story of studying and training the killer whale while it was in his captivity.

Tom Glazer belts out the title folk song about Namu in which he admonishes one to “Respect the life of your fellow creatures.” A voiceover informs us that the sea is the mother of life on our planet. The action opens as fisherman Joe Clausen (John Anderson) and the other local fishermen hunt down and kill a female killer whale in their fishing waters, as her male companion flees with her to Hank’s cove for safety before she succumbs. Joe, also, wants to kill him because he considers the killer whales as a danger to their occupation of salmon fishing, but Hank argues that hardly anything is known about such a whale and he demands the right to study the living creature in the name of science. Joe is a law abiding citizen, but his ignorance gets the better of him as he threatens to kill the whale despite what Hank said. But he takes his men away, saving his threat for another day, as Hank refuses to back down.

Hank is aided by his loyal assistant, a local fisherman, Deke (Richard Erdman), who tries to walk the line between his lifetime fishermen friends by talking nice to them while backing the boss he respects and likes very much. The tension grows when Hank buys in town from Kate’s fishing supply store a net of 200 yards to keep the whale enclosed in his cove, as she sells it to him despite being pressured with a boycott by Joe.

What I learned about whales from this pic is the following: They are the largest creatures to survive after the dinosaur became extinct. Whales have their own language and can communicate with each other. Whales have feelings. Their brain is bigger than man’s. You can tell by sight a male, because it has a larger fin than a female. Whales like to have their backs scratched. You can feed them if you talk nice to them. You can play with a whale and he won’t kill you.

By the time the film reaches its climax one is rooting for the playful killer whale over the antagonistic Joe, who is trying to kill him from a boat with his rifle. The gentle giant leaves Joe with the message of love after overturning his boat. He could have killed Joe if he really wanted to, but instead lets Hank rescue him. It’s the usual type of family film fare involving a child, an adult, and an animal who becomes man’s best friend, only this one is spun a little bit differently and remains unsentimental. It also offers a good lesson to the young about nature while remaining entertaining. Credit for that must go to director László Benedek (“The WildOne“/”The Kissing Bandit“).