The Plymouth Adventure (1952)

Genres - Adventure, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Period Film  |   Release Date - Nov 14, 1952 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Producer/director Clarence Brown had a long-held fascination with American history, and had previously directed Spencer Tracy in one of his better historical impersonations, Edison, The Man. Additionally, Brown seemed to thrive working in costume drama, as demonstrated by his success with Anna Karenina (1935), part of the director's long string of box office hits with Greta Garbo. Alas, despite all of these elements going for it -- and a great story at its core -- Plymouth Adventure was not one of Brown's triumphs and, in fact, led to his relinquishing the director's chair and, ultimately, retiring from the industry while still in his early sixties. The basic problem is that the film has no forward momentum, lying there for much of its length seemingly adrift -- indeed, movie audiences could well have found themselves fearful of the film's lack of any seeming plot progress, much as the Mayflower's passengers in the film live for weeks with the fear that they are adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, without hope of reaching land. The movie's slow progress is broken up by a few bursts of fist-fighting, treachery, and romantic passion (between Spencer Tracy's gruff, cynical captain Christopher Jones and Gene Tierney's pious-but-challenged Dorothy Bradford, and Van Johnson's John Alden and Dawn Addams' Priscilla Mullins), but these moments only serve to bring into sharper relief the flaccid drama and pacing around them; and the color photography doesn't really come to life until we reach the New World. Tracy does what he can with what is essentially a one-note role until the final third of the movie, with some compelling lines and scenes along the way, but even he can't save this picture, despite giving it his best effort. And all the acting muscle of the rest of the cast comes to little under Brown's leaden direction. Yet the movie is also a kind of a noble (if deeply flawed) effort to explain who some of the people who founded what became the United States were -- there are moments of rousing reverence that, alas, may be lost on any Americans who doesn't remember their elementary school history. And Miklos Rozsa, working in the unusual idiom of early American (indeed, almost pre-Colonial) music, turns in a rousing score -- and one that received a commercial release on LP, a rare honor at that time for an instrumental score on a non-musical film from MGM. The movie is more a curio than anything else -- it can hardly be called entertainment -- for the talent involved.