PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952)

Source

[1]    The film Plymouth Adventure is based on the novel The Plymouth Adventure: A Chronicle Novel of the Voyage of the Mayflower by Ernest Gebler (New York: Doubleday, Inc., 1950).  The movie plot follows the book with one major addition (the love affair between Captain Jones and Dorothy Bradford) and a few changes involving characters such as John Alden, William Bradford, Dorothy Bradford, and Captain Jones, as well as a number of omissions, chiefly a more detailed account of the interaction of the settlers with the Indians (for more on the Indians).  Scenarios such as the storm at sea are dramatic and lengthy in the film simply because the visual effect enhances the quality of the final product; the book's account requires only a few pages.

[2] The Jones-Bradford affair was adapted by Screenwriter Helen Deutsch from a soap-opera-type story fabricated in the 1850s for a women's magazine; the author later admitted she made up the entire tale.  In the book, Gilbert Winslow is strongly attracted to Dorothy Bradford, but the affair is more cerebral than physical; she is very passive about Winslow's feelings for her.  She does feel guilty when she is branded "that woman" by her female contemporaries ("how badly wicked and damned the good folk would think me, to see me talking to a strange man when I have a husband.  They'd hold a meeting and sentence me to be thrown overboard.") and for betraying her husband.  She accidentally falls overboard when the ship is at anchor, and Winslow mourns her more than Bradford. (see my video) On the other hand, early into the voyage Jones takes a fancy to Priscilla Mullins and propositions her; later Master's Mate Coppin finds Priscilla has used drinking water to bathe and hauls her to Jones to be punished. Nothing comes of this meeting but a reprimand for her.  Toward the end of the book, Priscilla implores Jones to help find the search party on Cape Cod; it is her purity and innocence which precipitate his conversion.  When Priscilla's parents and brother die during the early part of the first winter, Jones offers to marry her and take her back to England with him.

[3]    From the outset, John Alden's role in the book is given more emphasis and visibility; in the first six chapters, the story unfolds from his perspective. He first meets Priscilla Mullins in a Southampton geographer's shop where her father is purchasing a map.  His involvement with the settlers becomes intriguing when he eavesdrops on the underhanded deal Weston makes with Jones to land the Pilgrims in the wrong place.  His courtship of Priscilla is complicated by her father's intense objection to the match; Alden defies the ban.

[4]    In Gebler's account, William Bradford is given less power and credibility. It is John Howland, not Bradford, who is washed overboard during the storm.  Bradford is depicted as wiry and badly dressed, totally in reverence of William Brewster, very unfriendly toward Alden (the two have an ongoing, contentious relationship), moody, peevish, and given to emotional outbursts.  After a meeting with Jones to test the Pilgrim leaders' loyalty to King James, Bradford leaves in a huff, saying Jones is "so stupid."  The powerful speech about the settlers hanging together as the voyage ends is delivered by Edward Winslow, not Bradford.  In the book and the film, Bradford is more interested in the affairs of state than his wife's struggles.

[5]    The character of Dorothy Bradford is markedly different in the book.  Contrasted with the striking beauty of film star Gene Tierney , in the book version, she is plain-looking when serious, but pretty when smiling, "simple in her mind," sickly, given to bouts of crying, doubtful about the whole venture, and convinced they would all be better buried at sea.   For her, Gilbert Winslow provides a much needed opportunity to discuss her fears, although she is afraid he will tell Bradford about their love affair.

[6]    Captain Jones is far more manipulative and vicious toward the Pilgrim leaders.  When Brewster tries to hold a Sunday worship service, Jones orders him to stop his fanatical treason-preaching.  Brewster thinks him "a cross fellow with smelly feet"--dirty within and without.  To Robert Cushman, the Governor of the Speedwell, he is a "blownup toad."  Jones is also very crafty: he invites Brewster, Carver, Bradford, and Mullins to a special meal in his cabin, supposedly to create a good relationship, but in truth he wants to demonstrate his power.  However,  in the end he confesses his duplicity with Weston, and his total conversion is apparent, as it is in the film.

[7]    Much more emphasis is given in the book to the pious, religious aspect of the Pilgrims and their sufferings from starvation, the rigors of the New World, and their sicknesses and deaths.  Bradford and Carver provide most of the care for the dying.

[8]    Missing from both the film and the book is Longfellow's legend of Miles Standish's vicarious proposal to marry Priscilla Mullins delivered by John Alden.  Rose and Miles Standish are devoted to each other, and John Alden "speaks for himself" regarding Priscilla from the very beginning in both versions.

[9]    In the book, Gebler records the thoughts of a number of the group as land is first sighted:

  • Jones reflects bitterly that it is "Me it was carried them to it as surely as if I carried 'em on my back--not that they'll give me my just credit, believing it was rather their own guardian angels."
  • Standish feels that "if I could be the first man to set foot there it would be called Standish Point."
  • Brewster remarked aloud, "God's will be done..."
  • William Mullins is disappointed because "this barren prospect could have no possible relation to those engravings of golden, graceful savages walking and fanning themselves with feathers beneath palm trees and amid tropical flowers..."
  • Gilbert Winslow is fascinated by the scene on the boat rather than the land: "haggard, blotchy, tired faces marked by scurvy and rubbed-in dirt."
  • Billington vents his scorn that there are no monkeys, grapes growing on the seashore, no black-faced king as he had been led to believe.
  • The film version would have benefited from this technique.

    [10]    Gebler's comments from his biographical sketch in the Saturday Review of Literature of April 29, 1950, about his book, The Plymouth Adventure, a Literary Guild Selection in 1950, are as follows:  "Writing may be part of living for me, but reading is a part of being able to go on, a part of living for untold millions."  The annotated reviews, published in the Book Digest, 1950, are also interesting::
    1.  "The story is reconstructed from letters, journals, and histories." Booklist 46 (April 15,1950):  275.
    2.  "This, it seems to me, is the truest picture that we could have of the Plymouth adventure, the more remarkable in that it was written by a man of mixed Czech and Irish ancestry who has never been in this country." Chicago Sun Tribune (April 30,1950):  3.

    [11}  In summary, the film differs from its source principally by the addition of a love affair (a standard Hollywood device), the portrayal of the main Pilgrim characters as sterling, faultless figures, and Captain Jones as less caustic and bitter.  Very little attention is given to the interactions of the settlers with the Indians (for more on the Indians)  or to the enormity of their stuggles against sickness and deprivation in the New World.

    [12}  The main discrepancies between the actual history of the Pilgrims recorded in Bradford's account and the versions presented in the film and the book are the despair the settlers experience in their inability to achieve their religious goals and their failure in business matters, as well as the final dissolution of the Plymouth Colony.  Perhaps the more patriotic intent of both representations would have been compromised by these important additions.
     
     

    Copyright © 2000 by Elsie W. Hamel, Graduate Student at Lehigh University

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