TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
(director: John Farrow; screenwriters: George Bruce/Seton I. Miller/from the novel by Richard Henry Dana Jr.; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Eda Warren; music: Victor Young; cast: Alan Ladd (Charles Stewart), Brian Donlevy (Richard Henry Dana), William Bendix (Mr. Amazeen), Barry Fitzgerald (Terence O’Feenaghty), Howard da Silva (Captain Thompson), Esther Fernandez (Maria Dominguez), Albert Dekker (Brown), Louis Van Rooten (Mr. Foster), Darryl Hickman (Sam Hooper); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Seton I. Miller; Paramount; 1946)
“The ensemble drama was effective largely because of the superb acting, the salty dialogue and the strong direction that kept things authentic.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director John Farrow (“Five Came Back”/”Calcutta”/”Hondo”), at the time a Royal Naval Commander, uses his sea experience to helm this Hollywood fictionalized but nevertheless well-made and sober humanistic real-life seafaring story that’s set near the mid-19th century. It’s based on the celebrated 1840 book “Two Years Before The Mast” by Richard Henry Dana. The literate screenplay is by George Bruce and Seton I. Miller.
It’s about wealthy Harvard-educated novelist Richard Henry Dana (Brian Donlevy), who in 1834 doesn’t reveal his identity as he ships out to find why his brother died on this same ship during their last voyage. Dana has nightmarish experiences aboard the Pilgrim, a U.S. Merchant Marine ship, with its tyrannical Captain Thompson (Howard da Silva) that led him to be part of a mutiny, face a trial back on American soil and to publish his historical book pleading for the rights of the ordinary seamen who were abused by their officers without any recourse. Dana was determined to redress the grievances and sufferings of the common seamen. The result was that Congress passed a law in 1855 protecting the seamen of the Merchant Marine.The ensemble drama was effective largely because of the superb acting, the salty dialogue and the strong direction that kept things authentic.
Charles Stewart (Alan Ladd), the “Pilgrim” owner’s playboy son, is part of a crew shanghaied in a Boston bar by the blindly obedient first mate, Amazeen (William Bendix), on his father’s ship commanded by the abusive Captain Thompson, as they stop in Brazil to pick up passengers, pass round the Cape Horn in a storm and reach Mexico. When scurvy breaks out because of the slop the crew is fed (while the officers are richly fed such things as chicken), it leads to Stewart, who protests, placed in irons and then freed by the crew. Floggings, abuse, death and torture are commonplace aboard, which led to the mutiny and the men returning voluntarily to Boston, despite facing a death sentence, to plead their case at a trial in an American courtroom.
REVIEWED ON 2/21/2010 GRADE: B