When I participated in the Fourth Van Johnson Blogathon last year, I reviewed the three episodes of Murder, She Wrote Van appeared in. For this year’s blogathon, I wanted to do something different by writing about one of his films. While looking through my Pinterest board of movie recommendations, I was reminded of the 1952 movie, Plymouth Adventure. This film was introduced to me by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, when they reviewed the movie during my blogathon, ‘A Blogathon to be Thankful For’. The Mayflower journey is one of the most important events in U.S. history. However, it is rarely covered in cinema. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to check this film out! I also liked reading what the Brannan sisters had to say about Plymouth Adventure. Therefore, I was curious to see if my opinion was similar to theirs.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: The blogathon I am participating in celebrates the filmography of Van Johnson. So, talking about his performance first makes sense. What I liked about Van’s portrayal of a carpenter named John Alden was how his emotions represented the audience, expressing the thoughts and feelings we might experience if we were in his shoes. The moment John boards the Mayflower provides a perfect example. As he is walking around the deck, he is in awe of the ship’s magnitude. When he crosses paths with Spencer Tracy’s character, Captain Christopher Jones, John distinguishes himself from the other passengers as a carpenter, wanting to stand out for his skills and talents. Van’s on-screen personality highlights this distinction among the film’s ensemble!
My favorite character in Plymouth Adventure is Gilbert Winslow, portrayed by John Dehner. John carried his character with class and wisdom, like a true sophisticated gentleman. These characteristics are highlighted well in a scene between Gilbert and Christopher. In this scene, they are discussing the settlers’ reasons for partaking in the journey. Christopher feels they are foolish for throwing their lives away for the unknown. But Gilbert respectfully rebuts that argument by saying the settlers are brave because they sacrificed so much in order to achieve a better, more free life. Dawn Addams portrayed one of these settlers, a woman named Priscilla Mullins. While she was only in the movie for a limited amount of time, Priscilla brought a kind gentleness to the story. This presented a good counterpart to the harshness of the journey itself. I also liked seeing Dawn and Van perform together! They had nice on-screen chemistry and I was interested in seeing where Priscilla and John’s relationship would go. I was not expecting a romance in this film, so that was a pleasant surprise!
The use of color in the costumes: When I think about the 1600s, I think of articles of clothing that look plain and unimpressive. Outfits made for royal family members are an exception, as they were meant to stand-out among a sea of commoners. In Plymouth Adventure, I was happy to see pops of color in the film’s costumes! It was also interesting to see which colors were used. As I mentioned before, Gilbert Winslow is my favorite character in this movie. Throughout the story, he wore an outfit that was covered in an emerald green material. That creative decision not only helped John stand out among the ensemble cast, but the costume itself also complimented his dark hair. Noel Drayton’s costume also complimented his hair! Because his hair is a lighter hue, his costume was a nice burnt orange. Because of this creative choice, I can remember who Miles Standish, Noel Drayton’s character, was, as I am able to pick him out from the crowd. During the Mayflower journey, Priscilla can be seen wearing a simple, yet modest dress. This dress was pink and light yellow, a color combination I liked seeing. Dawn’s costume contrasted nicely against the dark waters from the ocean. It also highlights the character’s kind gentleness.
Showing the journey’s reality: When a movie portrays a historical event or period in time, the serious parts of that story can sometimes get glossed over or even omitted. With Plymouth Adventure, the creative team didn’t shy away from bringing up the harsher, sadder realities of that titular trip. During the journey, the Mayflower is caught in the middle of a storm. One of the settlers fears her son might have gone onto the deck. In an attempt to rescue him, William Bradford makes the selfless choice to find the settler’s son. I won’t spoil the movie, but I will say, at one point, I didn’t think William was going to survive his mission. That scene did a good job highlighting the fear that was constantly present on the Mayflower. History will tell you that the Mayflower journey was a harsh one, with sickness, hunger, and even death boarding the famous ship. So, I appreciate the creative team’s attempts at making the story feel as accurate as possible.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Not enough character development: When a movie’s creative team contains an ensemble cast, it can be a challenge to give each actor or actress involved the recognition they deserve. But with Plymouth Adventure, the screen time each actor received felt inconsistent. This caused the story’s character development to be limited. When Gilbert was first introduced, I was excited to see what his role on the Mayflower would be. Even during his conversation with Christopher about the settlers, I knew Gilbert was important in some way. But as the film went on, he was reduced to being the story’s narrator. These narrations were presented as journal entries, as if he were recording the journey’s history. I’m not denying the importance of keeping historical records. However, I was expecting more for Gilbert Winslow.
How the settlers were referenced: At the beginning of the film, there was an on-screen message which stated Plymouth Adventure was dedicated to the adventurous settlers. As I was watching the movie, I questioned how honest that message was. The settlers in the story were referenced as “fools”. Their motives for taking the trip were constantly in question, even by the ship’s captain. Despite having supporters on their side, like Gilbert Winslow and William Brewster, the settlers faced more disrespect than I expected. Even Christopher Jones accused the settlers of running away in fear from their government, when, from what I remember, they were running to a place where they felt they could create a better government. I’m aware that the settlers probably did face criticism back when the Mayflower journey actually took place. But in the context of the movie and how the Mayflower journey actually played out, that aforementioned message kind of feels disingenuous.
Christopher and Dorothy’s relationship: Because the Mayflower journey was long and grueling, it makes sense for the film’s creative team to create subplots within the script. But out of everything that happened in this movie, Christopher and Dorothy’s relationship is my least favorite. There was one scene where, after a drunken escapade, Christopher approaches Dorothy in the middle of the night. I’m not going to lie, this exchange made me feel uncomfortable. As the story progresses, we learn that Christopher has fallen in love with Dorothy. However, Dorothy is married to William Bradford. Once again, I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. But, honestly, that subplot was scandalous for a Breen Code era film. I also wish some of that story time had been given to Priscilla and John, a couple who actually had potential to form a lasting, romantic relationship.
My overall impression:
Blogathons can be a great way to discover new films and share the ones you love. From my event, ‘A Blogathon to be Thankful For’, I discovered a movie that I had, honestly, never heard of before. With that same title being chosen for the Fifth Annual Van Johnshon Blogathon, it seems like things are coming full circle. When it comes to that title, Plymouth Adventure, I thought it was just ok. For the most part, it appears the movie’s creative team had good intentions for the project. However, I can think of period/historical films that are stronger than this one. I appreciate the creative team’s decision to show the harsher parts of this story, as it illustrates just how difficult the journey was. But there are areas of the script that could have been improved, such as giving Christopher and Dorothy a different subplot. As I finish writing this review, I now realize I need to search for another film to write about for Thanksgiving.
Overall score: 6.1 out of 10