Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1952. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Helen Deutsch, based on the novel by Ernest Gebler. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Dore Schary. Music by Miklos Rozsa. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary. Costume Design by Walter Plunkett. Film Editing by Robert Kern. Academy Awards 1952.
Perhaps in 1952 it made sense to produce a historic melodrama about the first Pilgrims to cross over on the Mayflower, told without irony or depth except for making its captain a grump (played by Spencer Tracy) who lusts after the prettiest passenger (Gene Tierney) as they travel from Plymouth, England to the New World. It begins on British shores as Tracy puts his crew together, taking on a bright and optimistic carpenter (Van Johnson, whose effort at Britishness is as non-existent as the star’s), then gathers up the pious travelers who are escaping religious tyranny to form a new colony in Virginia (and the film ignores the fact that they will bring plenty of their own intolerance with them). Before sailing, a plot is set in motion that involves Tracy being paid off to “accidentally” sail to New England instead, which after months of discomfort, illness and actual danger from the elements (including a remarkable storm that is likely responsible for the film’s Special Effects Oscar) eventually leads to the historic meeting between the boat and that legendary rock. It’s actually not that surprising that an MGM movie appeals to what would been seen as the demographic of its time by presenting a hagiography of the pilgrims, but it has no deep, emotional effect and the chemistry between Tracy and Tierney is lost at sea very quickly. It’s about as convincing as Errol Flynn in Robin Hood as far as history goes, but it at least manages to be colourful and possess its moments of interest. The last film directed by the great Clarence Brown.