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Films >> Plymouth Adventure (1952) >>

Among the critics who reviewed this film, the general consensus of opinion is that the content is a good representation of the history of the voyage of the Pilgrims to the New World, and the story is interesting, if not inspiring.  Scriptwriter Helen Deutsch and Producer Dory Schary are hailed for their attention to minute details, such as authenticity and representation.   The addition of the love triangle seems to be a given for a Hollywood production.  Much attention is paid to the visual effects (e.g., the storm at sea) and the dialogue. Most of the reviewers mentioned the absence of the Mullins-Standish-Alden triangle of Longfellow fame.  The bottom line for the reviewers is that the message reinforces what the history books tell us about these settlers; i.e., they do not question whether it is "real" rather than "reel" history.  A number of examples follow.

The Christian Century. 17 December 1952: 1487.
This reviewer is unconcerned with either the actual relationship between Jones and the Pilgrims or the addition of the Jones-Bradford romance to the plot: "Drama adds fictional events to skeleton facts of the final success of the Pilgrims in winning over the rough, deceitful captain hired to transport them from his initial cynical heartlessness. A polished, dressed-up, absorbingly told, somewhat romanticized account of a famous voyage, of the triumph of men's faith and courage over hardship and disappointment. The added material is not improbable enough to justify quibbling."
Crowther, Bosley. "'Plymouth Adventure', a Vivid Portrayal of a Pilgrim Voyage." The New York Times 14 November 1952: 20.
In a tongue-in-check style, Crowther highlights some improbabilities in the plot: "In a vein of romantic speculation and in a style of pictorial pageantry that inevitably tends to hide the people behind the costumes and elevated words, Metro-Goldyn-Mayer and Dore Schary are telling a story of the Pilgrims' voyage to the New World in the film called Plymouth Adventure. Full of explicit admiration and the sort of grandeur that Technicolor assures, it is a thoroughly respectful and respectable adjunct to the school-room histories. As one might expect, the Pilgrims, in this handsome account of their trip from England to New England in the Mayflower 332 years ago, are a fine, stalwart lot of earnest people with quite as much light in their eyes as there is starch in their snow-white collars after fifty-odd days at sea. There is modesty in their decorum, fortitude in their mien and a resilience in their capacity to endure hardship that is almost impossible to believe. After a storm at sea that literally tosses them about in the ship like scrambled eggs, they come up with serenely shining faces and not a broken bone to be seen. Although the conception is romantic and although it even further departs from the fiction of Ernest Gebler's novel, upon which the script is based, Spencer Tracy makes something rather striking of this crudely predatory Captain Jones. He in no way conveys the illusion of an Elizabethan sailor, it is true, any more than does Lloyd Bridges as his smirking and lip-licking mate. But he does give a sense of a hard master who is impressed by decency. Gene Tierney as Mrs. Bradford is a firm pillar of well-starched ladyhood. For the rest, there's a lot of vivid detail of life and activity aboard the ship, and that storm at sea bears close comparison to the one in Samuel Goldwyn's "The Hurricane." Such waves! Such horrendous careening! And such a way to joist-up a sagging beam, with the hand-screw on an old-fashioned printing press! Those Pilgrims were almost as clever as the people at M-G-M. To serious historians, this picture, directed by the veteran Clarence Brown, may seem a trifle flowery and presumptuous, but it should do nothing to shake the concepts learned at school."
Erickson, Hal. The Plymouth Adventure. All Movie Guide.
As Erickson states, the film rates high marks for its entertainment value, not its representation of history; the reviewer is unaware that John Billington, one of the non-Separatist group, was the first person in the Colonies hanged for murder (Stevens 9-15): "Plymouth Adventure earned a footnote in film history as the last directorial effort by the prolific Clarence Brown. Otherwise, this colorful re-creation of the Pilgrims' journey to America is a workmanlike job, never inspired but always interesting Though the film makes several departures from the facts (there's even a villain!), Plymouth Adventure tells its tale professionally and with satisfactory entertainment value. The film earned MGM artisan A. Arnold Gillespie an Academy Award for best special effects."
Freeman, Marilla Waite, Chairman, Motion Picture Review Committee, American Library Association. New Films from Books. Library Journal 1 December 1952: 2066.
Even the Chairman of the Motion Picture Review Committee overlooks (or misses) the distortion of facts and emphasizes the film's entertaining qualities: "We welcome the strands of romances and color which novelist Gebler, screen writer Deutsch, producer Schary, and director Clarence Brown have woven into the Pilgrim adventure, without once voiding the inner reality of this carefully documented American story. Here is an exciting and rewarding experience for the movie-goer."
"Fun Aboard the Mayflower." Time 9 June 1952: 102.
This reviewer does question the movie's historicity but seems confused as to what those facts are and how they are reported: "In moviemakers' jargon, a 'lap dissolve' consists of a movie scene slowly fading out while the next scene builds up right on top of it. According to M-G-M Production Boss Dore Schary, one of history's most fascinating lap dissolves happened in 1620 when the Pilgrims on the good ship Mayflower faded out at Plymouth, England, and appeared 96 days later, anchored off what was to be Plymouth, Mass. Nearly two years ago Schary set M-G-M Scripter Helen Deutsch to digging into all the facts and legends about the Pilgrims' mysterious voyage. The result, Plymouth Adventure, was finally on film last week. If M-G-M has, as it claims, helped set the record straight, graduates of U.S. high-school history courses are due for a surprise. In the movie, only 40 of the Mayflower's 102 passengers are separatists from the Church of England, fleeing King James I's persecution."
Nathan, Paul S. "Books into Films." Publishers' Weekly October 1952: 1808.
Nathan notes that Screen Writer Helen Deutsch is more concerned about props and costumes than with historical facts. Like most film critics, he does not question the movie "experts": "In the matter of props and costumes, complete exactitude was the goal. Therefore, even where original furniture of the period might have been available, studio cabinet makers were put to work copying Elizabethan and Tudor pieces because the furniture the Pilgrims brought with them would have looked newer than the tables and chairs that have survived as antiques. Care was taken to suggest the Dutch influence on the clothing of those who had spent some time in Holland. A distinction was also observed between what the tradesman and the artisans wore."
Newsweek 1 December 1952: 82.
This reviewer does not question the film's historicity; he states that "historically, Plymouth Adventure jibes with the record, and the occasional liberties taken with the facts are no more than might be reasonably expected; with history assenting, the film resolves into an exciting, Technicolored drama of the sea. Practically everybody is aboard the ship who belongs in the history books: Captain Christopher Jones and his crew of 33; William Bradford, who was to become the second governor of the colony; Dorothy, his ill-starred wife; the Winslows; the Brewsters; the Carvers; Miles Standish; Priscilla Mullen; and John Alden." At the same time, the plot is built on "Dore Schary's formula for a box office success," and the reviewer approves of the screenplay; i.e., "it is earthbound only long enough to pick up the mixed lot of Puritans, bondsmen, and adventurers who foregather at the port of Southampton for the purpose of sailing for Virginia and, at the end, to show the handful of survivors who have weathered the winter of their Massachusetts discontent. The rest is a personal matter between a forbidding ocean and the rugged little 180-ton square-rigger. Of the 102 beleaguered passengers, only a few are granted the privilege of coming to life. Bradford has a few moments as a brave and brooding zealot. Young Alden, a resourceful carpenter, takes a fancy to Priscilla Mullen from the first. Miles Standish (despite Longfellow) hardly notices her, being busy trying to teach the colonists how to handle a musket. Only Dorothy Bradford's elliptical interest in the dour Captain Jones and her mysterious death by drowning off Cape Code give the film a hint of personal drama. All the journey's hardships are here, explicit in detail, exemplary in the compatibility to Technicolor and Hollywood refinement. Starvation and death, disease and dissension plague the crowded ship. Elizabeth Hopkins, with comparatively little trouble, gives birth to a son. With even less trouble, Captain Jones charts his course away from the promised Virginia." This critic also champions Director Clarence Brown's "attempts to put history in a nutshell and dramatize the triumph of faith over adversity. The terrifying storm which blows up mid-ocean is his ace in the ship's hold. This is a crashing, wallowing storm at sea, and if William Bradford is washed overboard instead of John Howland, who actually was the victim, only Howland's descendants can protest the dramatic liberty." Evidently this reviewer is more aware of the main source of Pilgrim history than most critics; he states that "according to Bradford's journal, [the storm] was so awful that "they could not beare a knote of saile...but were forced to hull for diverse days togither."
"Pilgrims' Progress." Commonwealth 5 December 1952: 224.
This critic also focused on the film's entertainment value in terms of the emoting and production: "Enthusiastic admirers of Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson, Leo Genn and the Pilgrims who landed on these shores in 1620 will no doubt be equally enthusiastic about Plymouth Adventure. Other audiences may wish that the picture were a little less of an epic concentration on hard times aboard the Mayflower, and more of a personal story with some depth of characterization." "The script by Helen Deutsch deserves credit for sticking fairly close to history (except for a certain amount of dramatic license) and for not including the 'Speak-for-Yourself-John' legend. Every now and then the dialogue and tone of the picture get a little pompous; this is no doubt due to Producer Dore Schary's awe of his subject and respect for various pressure groups who warned that this better be no Hollywoodized version of hanky-panky aboard the Mayflower. The film is indeed substantial and, when it isn't taking itself too seriously, is an interesting movie. It has its sentimental moments, its pageant, and even a few dull episodes, but it also has its inspiring scenes -- best of which shows the signing of the Mayflower Compact, an agreement made by the Pilgrims to live by a government based on the will of the governed. These hardy Pilgrims and their thoughtful pact still have a few things to say to us today."
Time. 24 November 1952: 108.
This critic has a more realistic view: "Historians are hazy as to exactly what happened aboard the Mayflower between the time it sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620, and the time it landed 66 days later in Provincetown, Mass. M-G-M, attempting to fill in the historical gap, has drawn on what studio publicists call new, revealing research, as well as on Ernest Gebler's imaginative 1950 novel and on some pure invention by Screenwriter Helen Deutsch. The resulting movie pictures the Atlantic crossing of the Pilgrim Fathers as a combination of storms above deck and stormy passions below deck. "Producer Dore Schary hoped that Plymouth Adventure would 'humanize' the Pilgrims, but they never emerge on the screen as flesh-and-blood characters. The picture has a spectacular Atlantic storm, but most of the time the Pilgrims -- and the audience -- are merely awash in a sea of florid dialogue."

See Also

BFI//Monthly Film Bulletin. January 1953: 5.

Catholic World. December 1952: 223.

Deschner, Donald. The Films of Spencer Tracy. Secaucus:Citadel Press, 1972: 213-14.

Film Daily. 20 October 1952: 6.

Hollywood Reporter. 20 October 1952: 3.

McCalls. December 1952: 10-11.

Motion Picture Herald Product Digest. 25 October 1952: 1551.

The Spectator. 6 February 1953: 149.

The Tattler. 18 February 1953: 284.

Theatre Arts. December 1952: 84.