Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pilgrims' Progress

Apparently I have never done a full-length blog post on the film Plymouth Adventure before. It's coming on TCM at 8:00 PM tonight, so now would be a good time to give it that full-length post.

As you can probably guess from the title, Plymouth Adventure is a film about the Pilgrims, who fled England fearing religious persecution. They went first to Holland, and then back to England in order to obtain ship passage to the New World. The Jamestown colony had been founded a dozen years earlier, and apparently it was considered to be a good idea to get these people of a different religion leave England proper, while still working for the crown company charged with developing the New World; meanwhile, the Pilgrims could follow their wacky religion to their hearts' content in the Americas. Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) is the captain of the Mayflower, and he's offered a bribe: a substantial sum of money to take the passengers several hundred miles north of Virginia, where they thought they would be going. (Whether or not that happened in real life is questionable.)

Soon enough we get onto the Mayflower, and it sets off on its voyage that we know is going to be successful since this is a historical movie, at least in the basic facts. But they have to make a movie out of this material, so we get a good deal of extra drama. One of the standards is a storm, which is plausible: considering that the voyage took three months and started in late summer, they would likely have had to deal with the outer bands of a former hurricane somewhere along the way. The Pilgrim's religiosity causes a few plot problems deaing with their desire for cleanliness. In reality, fresh water would probably have gone bad over the course of a transatlantic voyage, so passengers, including the children, would have drunk something with a low alcohol content just to kill off all the nasty bacteria. Worst of all is the love story between William Bradford's (Leo Genn) wife Dorothy (Gene Tierney), and Capt. Jones. This almost certainly didn't happen in real life. But again, we wouldn't have a movie without such stuff.

To be fair, Plymouth Adventure is a pretty good movie. MGM made this one, which means we get a lot of very competent stars and high production values, as scene in the storm sequences. (Perhaps the production values are too high; people months into a transatlantic voyage wouldn't look this glamorous.) As for the rest of the cast, Van Johnson plays John Alden, going after Priscilla (Dawn Addams); Lloyd Bridges plays one of the sailors; and rather humorously, there's a line in the credits for the Mayflower as itself.

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