July 4 Movies: John Paul Jones (1959), John Farrow’s Epic, Starring Robert Stack and Bette Davis

July 4: Historical Movies

Shot in Spain, produced by Samuel Bronson and released by Warner, John Paul Jones was unfortunately the last movie directed by John Farrow (also known as the father of Mia Farrow, who made her screen debut in this film).

John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones (film) poster.jpg

Robert Stack is miscast as the hero in the titular role in John Paul Jones, a handsome but dull period epic drama, shot in Technicolor.

The script, by Farrow, Ben Hecht, and Jesse Lasky Jr., from the story Nor’wester by Clements Riley, begins with a US Navy officer telling his sailors the life story of John Paul Jones.

At 17, John Paul (Stack), a native of Scotland, is an experienced ship’s navigator. In 1773, nine years later, he is master of a ship in the West Indies, but after an incident that results in the governor of Tobago advising him to leave, John Paul adds the surname Jones and goes to visit his brother in Virginia, who has recently died.

Jones hires his attorney, Patricl Henry (Macdonald Carey), to assist him in business, while taking a romantic interest in Henry’s sweetheart, Dorothea Danders.

After serving as second-in-command in the Bahamas, his adopted countrymen sign the American Declaration of Independence. Jones receives his first command, sets sail towards Newfoundland and seizes eighteen enemy ships, sending their supplies to American general George Washington (John Crawford).

Washington sends the young officer to France. Benjamin Franklin (Charles Coburn) then urges Jones to take a frigate and invade the British Isles. A new vessel is built at the suggestion of Marie Antoinette (Susana Canales), and the only condition of  King Louis XVI (French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont) is that Jones’ ship sail under an American flag.

Jones’ successes ultimately lead him to Russia in 1790 at the behest of the empress, Catherine the Great(Bette Davis, in cameo appearance, speaking in poor French).

Returning to Paris ill, a dying Jones, begins to dictate to Aimee (Marisa Pavan) the type of training to be given a future US Navy officer.

The final scenes show present day Midshipmen of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, with Admiral John Paul Jones acclaimed as one of the bravest figures in naval history.

Production values–music score by Max Steiner, cinematography by Michel Kelber—are handsome but not distinguished.

The movie was a big flop at the box office. Made on a big budget ($4 million), it only earned $2 million in receipts.


Robert Stack as John Paul Jones

Marisa Pavan as Aimee de Tellison

Charles Coburn as Benjamin Franklin

Erin O’Brien as Dorothea Danders

Macdonald Carey as Patrick Henry

Bette Davis as Empress Catherine the Great

Jean-Pierre Aumont as King Louis XVI

David Farrar as John Wilkes


Directed by John Farrow
Produced by Samuel Bronston
Written by John Farrow, Jesse Lasky Jr., Ben Hecht, Based on Nor’wester by Clements Ripley
Starring Robert Stack
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Michel Kelber
Edited by Eda Warren
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: June 16, 1959

Running time: 126 mins

Note: TCM shows this nmovie every July 4,