Plymouth Adventure


1h 45m 1952
Plymouth Adventure

Brief Synopsis

Epic dramatization of the Pilgrims' journey to the new world on the Mayflower.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Historical
Release Date
Nov 28, 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Nov 1952; Los Angeles opening: 27 Nov 1952
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Carmel, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Plymouth Adventure by Ernest Gebler (New York, 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,390ft (12 reels)

Synopsis

In August 1620, a group of religious Englishmen known as the pilgrims wait on a Southampton dock to sail to America. Their trip has been financed by Virginia investors, who plan to make a compact with the voyagers to work five days a week for the Virginia company and two days for themselves. Although not a pilgrim himself, young carpenter John Alden is eager for adventure and signs on for the voyage, as do several others. The captain of the ship, called The Mayflower , is Christopher Jones, a cynic, who takes payment from Mr. Weston of the Virginia company to change the ship's course to New England but not tell the passengers. Once onboard, John finds himself quartered with William Brewster, the fugitive leader of the pilgrims, but does not tell the authorities. Just before the Mayflower sets sail, Weston reveals that terms of the compact have been changed and the settlers will need to work seven days a week for the company. When the passengers refuse to sign, Jones realizes that Weston had planned this and had secretly been buying the bankrupt New England company in the hope that the hardworking pilgrims would make it profitable. Because the voyage has already been paid for, Jones agrees to keep his passengers. The night before sailing, Jones gets drunk in a local tavern and when he comes back onboard, encounters Dorothy Bradford, the pretty, younger wife of William Bradford. Attracted to Dorothy, Jones tries to force himself on her, but her screams summon Bradford. The next morning, August 6th, the Mayflower and its companion ship, the Speedwell set sail. Young William Button happily says that he will be the first to see the new world, a vow written down by Gilbert Winslow, who chronicles the voyage. By August 15th, the Speedwell is on the verge of sinking and Jones determines that both ships must return to England. Although the passengers concur, Jones is irritated that Bradford has insisted that the passengers vote on the issue. In Plymouth, eighteen of the Mayflower passengers decide to remain in England, and the rest vote to allow those on the Speedwell to sail with them, despite Jones's warnings of danger and short rations. After setting sail again, the Mayflower encounters dry weather, and water is limited. When John helps fellow passenger Priscilla Mullins obtain some fresh water for washing, she then passes it around, and eventually Dorothy tosses it overboard. First mate Coppin sees this and drags her to Jones, who reveals how low the water supply is, but says that there is always water for a friend of the captain. Insulted, Dorothy rushes back to her cabin, where Bradford brusquely tells her not to interact with the sailors. Soon the weather turns cold and William, among others, comes down with lung fever. A large storm hits, and the passengers are terrified. When a woman mistakenly reports that her son is on deck, Bradford goes to find him and falls into the water, but is saved by Jones and Gilbert. As the storm rages, the mast falls and one of the timbers beneath the deck breaks. The ship is only saved from foundering when John suggests that they use a large printing press in the cargo hold to hoist the ceiling. The press works and for the first time, Jones smiles. After the storm passes, Dorothy goes to Jones to thank him for saving her husband. He sends her away, but notices that before leaving, she gently touches his jacket. By October, the voyage has taken its toll on the passengers, many of whom have come down with fever or scurvy. Rations and firewood are dangerously low as the cold increases. One night, Dorothy approaches Jones on deck. He admits his longing for her, but she merely says that she has discovered his secret, that he has a heart. On Wednesday, November 8th, the sixty-fourth day of their voyage, one of the dogs on the ship finds a dead land bird. Some of the passengers bring William on deck, but as he looks out, he collapses and dies. After he is buried at sea, land is finally sighted. Although the passengers think that they have reached Virginia, crewman Greene tells them that it is New England, but assumes that they will stay only a few days before sailing on. When Bradford and the other leaders go to see Jones, he tells them that they will be staying in New England. Bradford, who guessed that their arrival in New England was not accidental, tells Jones that they have decided to stay because it is less tied to England than the Virginia colony, and says that the colonists have far greater inner strength than Jones. Bradford then suggests a new compact to the other passengers, one that will unite them in the new world. Some of the men, led by Bradford, go ashore in the area they call New Plymouth. Before leaving the ship, Bradford tells Dorothy that everything that has happened on the ship will be forgotten, then reveals how much she means to him. Later, Dorothy goes to Jones's cabin to ask him to stay instead of taking the ship back to England as planned. He asks her to return with him, and they kiss, but she says that it is wrong to leave her husband. Jones counters that it is equally wrong to stay and think of another man, after which a troubled Dorothy goes on deck. Three days later, the men return, and Bradford is told by Brewster that Dorothy went over the side and drowned. After showing his contempt for Bradford, Jones goes to his cabin and sobs. When Coppin comes to the cabin to demand they sail back to England, Jones fights him and orders his crew to return to their posts. In early April, the fifty-six colonists who lived through the winter are thriving, with houses built and crops planted. Jones, who has become a trusted friend, is bid farewell by the grateful colonists, and he thanks them for teaching him about the human spirit. Prior to sailing, Jones admits to Bradford, with whom he has become close, that he loved Dorothy, but says that she never betrayed her husband. As the Mayflower sets sail, it fires a salute.

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Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Historical
Release Date
Nov 28, 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Nov 1952; Los Angeles opening: 27 Nov 1952
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Carmel, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Plymouth Adventure by Ernest Gebler (New York, 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,390ft (12 reels)

Award Wins

Best Special Effects

1953

Articles

Plymouth Adventure


MGM's special effects department pulled out all the stops for the studio's lavish tribute to the pilgrim spirit and even won an Oscar® for the impressive storms at sea they created. It wasn't enough to turn Plymouth Adventure (1952) into a box-office winner, though. Around the studio it was quickly dubbed MGM's "Thanksgiving turkey." Years later, studio head Dore Schary would admit "there weren't enough descendants of the original Mayflower passengers to help it cross over to success." But despite the picture's problems, there was still a lot of great talent at work.

To begin with, Schary assigned the production to director Clarence Brown, a long-time studio veteran. To many that might have seemed a strange choice. Brown was best known as one of Greta Garbo's favorite directors on films like Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Anna Karenina. On Plymouth Adventure, he even used her favorite cameraman, William Daniels, who did a brilliant job of combining the special effects work with sweeping vistas of the Atlantic. But Brown had another specialty as a director often overshadowed by his work with the Swedish superstar. From Ah, Wilderness! in 1935 to Intruder in the Dust in 1949, he had helmed a string of powerful family films, often with a keen sense of the American spirit. That made him the perfect choice to captain this tale of some of the first Americans.

For the screenplay, Brown turned to one of his favorite writers, Helen Deutsch, who had written National Velvet. Drawing on Ernest Gebler's popular historical novel she tried to fill in the blanks in the historical records of the Pilgrims' journey with strong helpings of adventure and romance. Chief among her inventions was a complicated emotional relationship between Spencer Tracy as the Mayflower's irreligious captain and Gene Tierney as the wife of Pilgrim leader William Bradford. The romantic plot climaxes with Tierney's possible suicide when she falls from the ship as it sits at anchor in what would one day be called Cape Cod. And fanciful as that plot turn may have seemed, it actually anticipated later suggestions from historians that Dorothy Bradford may indeed have killed herself in despair over the harsh land she was expected to call home.

Every department at MGM contributed to making Plymouth Adventure a breathtaking film experience. Designers tried to capture a sense of life on the Mayflower, while Deutsch and Brown earned praise for the details of the Pilgrims' day-to-day existence. And composer Miklos Rozsa drew on tunes from an actual Pilgrim psalm book, in particular the hymn "Confess Jehovah Thankfully," which captures the immigrants' courage and abiding faith.

With all of that impressive detail, Plymouth Adventure should have been a big hit. Years later, Schary would admit he was wrong to fight his MGM bosses, who didn't want him to make the expensive film. He had some justification in light of the studio's recent success with such epics as King Solomon's Mines (1950), Quo Vadis? (1951) and Ivanhoe (1952), but he would later remember an early silent called The Mayflower that destroyed the career of popular star Charles Ray. Plymouth Adventure did much the same damage to several of those involved with it. Brown was so exhausted by his work on the production that he retired from directing, though he enjoyed a long and happy retirement away from storms at sea (or in the front office). Star Spencer Tracy was so fed up with the films the studio offered him that Schary had to threaten a lawsuit to get him to show up on the set of his next film. Ironically, it turned out to be one of his biggest hits, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).

Producer: Dore Schary
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Helen Deutsch
Based on the Novel by Ernest Gebler
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Film Editing: Robert Kern
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).
C-107m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

Plymouth Adventure

Plymouth Adventure

MGM's special effects department pulled out all the stops for the studio's lavish tribute to the pilgrim spirit and even won an Oscar® for the impressive storms at sea they created. It wasn't enough to turn Plymouth Adventure (1952) into a box-office winner, though. Around the studio it was quickly dubbed MGM's "Thanksgiving turkey." Years later, studio head Dore Schary would admit "there weren't enough descendants of the original Mayflower passengers to help it cross over to success." But despite the picture's problems, there was still a lot of great talent at work. To begin with, Schary assigned the production to director Clarence Brown, a long-time studio veteran. To many that might have seemed a strange choice. Brown was best known as one of Greta Garbo's favorite directors on films like Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Anna Karenina. On Plymouth Adventure, he even used her favorite cameraman, William Daniels, who did a brilliant job of combining the special effects work with sweeping vistas of the Atlantic. But Brown had another specialty as a director often overshadowed by his work with the Swedish superstar. From Ah, Wilderness! in 1935 to Intruder in the Dust in 1949, he had helmed a string of powerful family films, often with a keen sense of the American spirit. That made him the perfect choice to captain this tale of some of the first Americans. For the screenplay, Brown turned to one of his favorite writers, Helen Deutsch, who had written National Velvet. Drawing on Ernest Gebler's popular historical novel she tried to fill in the blanks in the historical records of the Pilgrims' journey with strong helpings of adventure and romance. Chief among her inventions was a complicated emotional relationship between Spencer Tracy as the Mayflower's irreligious captain and Gene Tierney as the wife of Pilgrim leader William Bradford. The romantic plot climaxes with Tierney's possible suicide when she falls from the ship as it sits at anchor in what would one day be called Cape Cod. And fanciful as that plot turn may have seemed, it actually anticipated later suggestions from historians that Dorothy Bradford may indeed have killed herself in despair over the harsh land she was expected to call home. Every department at MGM contributed to making Plymouth Adventure a breathtaking film experience. Designers tried to capture a sense of life on the Mayflower, while Deutsch and Brown earned praise for the details of the Pilgrims' day-to-day existence. And composer Miklos Rozsa drew on tunes from an actual Pilgrim psalm book, in particular the hymn "Confess Jehovah Thankfully," which captures the immigrants' courage and abiding faith. With all of that impressive detail, Plymouth Adventure should have been a big hit. Years later, Schary would admit he was wrong to fight his MGM bosses, who didn't want him to make the expensive film. He had some justification in light of the studio's recent success with such epics as King Solomon's Mines (1950), Quo Vadis? (1951) and Ivanhoe (1952), but he would later remember an early silent called The Mayflower that destroyed the career of popular star Charles Ray. Plymouth Adventure did much the same damage to several of those involved with it. Brown was so exhausted by his work on the production that he retired from directing, though he enjoyed a long and happy retirement away from storms at sea (or in the front office). Star Spencer Tracy was so fed up with the films the studio offered him that Schary had to threaten a lawsuit to get him to show up on the set of his next film. Ironically, it turned out to be one of his biggest hits, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Producer: Dore Schary Director: Clarence Brown Screenplay: Helen Deutsch Based on the Novel by Ernest Gebler Cinematography: William H. Daniels Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary Music: Miklos Rozsa Costume Design: Walter Plunkett Film Editing: Robert Kern 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). C-107m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening cast credits differ in order from the end credits. Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson and Leo Genn are all listed below the opening title, followed, in order, by Dawn Addams, Lloyd Bridges, Barry Jones, John Dehner, Tommy Ivo, Lowell Gilmore and Noel Drayton. The end credits begin with Gilmore "as `Edward Winslow'," and end with Tracy "as `Capt. Christopher Jones'." A written prologue begins with the words: "The history of mankind is the record of those who dared to adventure into unknown realms" and ends with a dedication to "the immortal men and women who dared to undertake the Plymouth Adventure and so brought to a continent the seed that grew into the United States of America."
       According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Bronislau Kaper was initially set to score the film, Peter Lawford was at one time cast, and Tierney was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox. According to a May 1, 1950 MGM News press release, Deborah Kerr was to be the female lead of the film and William A. Wellman was to direct. News items also note that portions of the film were shot on the ship the Queen Juliana. A March 7, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items indicated that Philip Friend was testing for the role that was to have been played by Peter Lawford, but Friend was not in the released film. According to various Hollywood Reporter news items, actors Bob Wilkinson, Owen Pritchard, Jeffrey Pritchard, Paul Salata, Bruce Carruthers and Jack Dwyer were cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       According to a Variety article on November 26, 1952, when the film opened, descendants of those who sailed to North America on the original Mayflower complained about the way their ancestors were portrayed. Former congressman Maurice Thatcher, Deputy Governor General of the National Society of Mayflower Descendants, took particular exception to the portrayal of "Dorothy Bradford," who was, according to Thatcher "eminently respectable" and not involved in any scandal as shown in the film. Thatcher claimed that the film altered the facts of incidents that happened to Priscilla Mullins to make it appear that they happened to Bradford because Bradford drowned, leaving no descendants, whereas Mullins' descendants "raised the roof" when they learned about incidents that were to be dramatized on the screen. Another Variety article described similar complaints by Mayflower descendants after a special screening of the film for the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Society of Mayflower Descendants. Following the screening, the 300-member chapter passed a resolution denouncing "the contamination of the reputation of Dorothy Bradford."
       As loosely depicted in the film, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England on September 21, 1620. The ship carried 102 passengers and a crew of 21 (some sources list the combined total at 135) on the voyage to North America. The ship arrived at what became Provincetown, MA on November 21, 1620. On that day, forty-one of the male passengers signed The Mayflower Compact, a document that was intended to formulate just and equal laws by which the new colony would be governed. A replica of the original ship, called Mayflower II, set sail from Plymouth, England on April 20, 1957 and docked in Plymouth, MA on June 13, 1957 at the site of the colony established by the Pilgrims, Plimoth Plantation. The ship was a gift from the people of Britain to the United States.
       According to a 1952 article in American Cinematographer, about twenty-five percent of the shots of the Mayflower were actually studio-made miniatures. The article also noted that, under the auspices of A. Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie, head of M-G-M's Special Effects department, Miniatures Department head Don Jahraus and processor Carroll Shepphird, miniatures were constructed and shot in Ansco Color by Max Fabian. The film won an Oscar for Special Effects and, according to Motion Picture Almanac, it was one of the top twenty highest-grossing films of the year.