Botany Bay (1953)

Genres - Adventure, Drama, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Sea Adventure  |   Run Time - 93 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

A ripping yarn that never quite rips as much as it wants to (and needs to), Botany Bay is a decent seafaring adventure film. Botany invites comparison with Mutiny on the Bounty and other better films, and it cannot stand up to such comparison, but on its own terms, it's satisfying (if flawed). Chief among its flaws is its leading man, Alan Ladd, who finished up his contract with Paramount with this film, and who often seems to be counting the minutes until that contract is up. His performance is capable, but it lacks the fire and sparkle that the part calls for, leaving the film without a solid anchor at its center. The severe, if understandable, reliance on soundstage shooting is also damaging, especially to modern audiences accustomed to genuine location shooting or at least CGI effects. John Farrow's steady and skillful direction helps to make up for these defects and finds the strengths in the serviceable but uninspired screenplay; however, the film's biggest asset is the commanding performance of James Mason. Exuding the power and charisma that Ladd lacks, Mason steals the movie with his ruthless portrayal of the captain, managing to make a despicable character intriguing and, at times, almost sympathetic. When Mason is onscreen, there's a turbulence to Botany that makes the film worth watching.