(director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Helen Deutsch/based on the novel by Ernest Gebler; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Robert Kern; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Spencer Tracy (Captain Christopher Jones), Gene Tierney (Dorothy Bradford), Van Johnson (John Alden), Leo Genn (William Bradford), Dawn Addams (Priscilla Mullins), Lloyd Bridges (Coppin), Rhys Williams (Mr. Weston), John Dehner (Gilbert Winslow), Noel Drayton (Miles Standish), Barry Jones (William Brewster), Lowell Gilmore (Edward Winslow), Tommy Ivo (William Button); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dore Schary; MGM; 1952)
“Its replica of the Mayflower is accurate, but the story is dull and strays from the truth with its invented romance between the Captain and the wife of the Pilgrim leader.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A lavish but ponderous MGM production is rolled out for this prestige historical melodrama. It’s based on the novel by Ernest Gebler and is written by Helen Deutsch. This was the last film Clarence Brown (“National Velvet”/”Song of Love”) directed. It was a well-meaning venture giving us a schoolboy history lesson, but it made a splash mostly over its special effects, its eye for detail, lush Technicolor and the brilliant psalm-like score by composer Miklos Rozsa. Its replica of the Mayflower is accurate, but the story is dull and strays from the truth with its invented romance between the Captain and the wife of the Pilgrim leader.
In August 1620, in Southhampton, England, the gruff Captain Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy), a hater of Pilgrims, is hired by the Virginia Company to take 102 pilgrims on the Mayflower to settle a colony in America. The Pilgrims have signed a contract to be indentured to work for seven years for the investors. However at the last moment the contract is torn up for devious reasons. Nevertheless the Mayflower sails. Without their knowledge the Pilgrims are transported to Plymouth Rock and not Virginia, at the request of the corrupt Virginia Company head, Mr. Weston (Rhys Williams). He has a sneaky deal cooking with the bankrupt New England Company, that owns the rights to Plymouth Rock, whereby he will buy the company and leave the Pilgrims no choice but to agree to his terms to remain there.
Crossing the Atlantic means overcoming scurvy, storms, food and water rationing and cramped quarters. The gist of the film takes place on the perilous voyage. That’s where the Captain lusts after Dorothy (Gene Tierney), the unattainable wife of the devout Pilgrim leader William Bradford (Leo Genn).
Also aboard are an adventurous carpenter who is not a pilgrim, John Alden (Van Johnson); the stowaway wanted by the Brits, the free-thinker dissident William Brewster (Barry Jones); the thuggish navigator (Lloyd Bridges); the wide-eyed kid William Button (Tommy Ivo); the soldier who trains the settlers how to fight, Miles Standish (Noel Drayton), and Priscilla Mullins (Dawn Addams), the love interest of Alden.
By November, 56 Pilgrims survive and settle in the Cape Cod area. They also survive the winter with the help of the friendly Indians and by April have built a permanent settlement. Under the leadership of Bradford, they sign the historical Mayflower Compact. Though Braddock’s wife decides to stay and not return with the Captain, the ill-fated woman slips on the deck into the sea and drowns.
REVIEWED ON 12/18/2016 GRADE: B-