Plymouth Adventure (1952): Clarence Brown’s Stale Epic, Starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney

Aiming for epic scale in telling a major historical event, Plymouth Adventure was nonetheless an artistic and commercial flop, despite its stellar cast of Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson and Leo Genn.

Our Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

MGM head of production Dore Schary was excited about the project, telling Hedda Hopper: “I don’t think that historical era has been done properly on screen before because the people were too soft. The pilgrims had to be tough and lusty to accomplish what they did, and that’s the kind we cast in the film

Unfortunately it was veteran director Clarence Brown’s final film, adapted by Helen Deutsch from Ernest Gébler‘s novel “The Plymouth Adventure.”

Brown ended up making a dull, fictionalized film that deviated from the facts in recording the story of the Pilgrims’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America aboard the Mayflower.

The narrative unfolds as a love triangle that, in fact, had never happened. During the long sea voyage, Captain Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) falls in love with Dorothy Bradford (Gene Tierney), the wife of William Bradford (Leo Genn).  The romantic melodrama is resolved in a tragic but uncreditable way.

Ship’s carpenter John Alden (Van Johnson), reportedly the first person to set foot on Plymouth Rock in 1620, is attracted to Priscilla Mullins (Dawn Addams), one of the young Pilgrims after William Bradford. Alden ultimately wins Priscilla in yet another triangle with Miles Standish (Noel Drayton).

Lloyd Bridges provides comic relief as the first-mate Coppin, and child star Tommy Ivo is cast as young William Button, the only passenger to die on the actual voyage across the storm-swept Atlantic.  According to this film, he wanted to be the first to see the land and to become a king in the New World, “the new Garden of Eden.

The film is narrated as a chronicle, detailing the various events that occurred on board, like the state of fire woods, collective praying and singing, the death of loyal men, the birth of new babies, and so on.

The budget of the film escalated due to the expensive effects (which won an Oscar), and though it performed moderately well in the U.S., it was ultimately a commercial loss.

Spencer Tracy as Christopher Jones
Gene Tierney as Dorothy Bradford
Van Johnson as John Alden
Leo Genn as William Bradford
Barry Jones as William Brewster
Dawn Addams as Priscilla Mullins
Lloyd Bridges as First Mate Coppin
Noel Drayton as Miles Standish
John Dehner as Gilbert Winslow
Tommy Ivo as William Button
Lowell Gilmore as Edward Winslow