Cast & Crew
On a large Navy frigate, an officer tells new seamen about the legacy of the man who commanded the first ship to carry the U.S. flag into a European port, John Paul Jones: In 1759, at age twelve, John, from a poor Scottish family, witnesses an English officer disperse townspeople playing the bagpipes, which are viewed as an instrument of war music. When the officer also insults the group by calling the kilt, forbidden by law, a "skirt," John hits the officer in the face with an egg. Desiring to be master of a ship, John goes to sea and by age seventeen is skilled in navigation. Seeking further experience, he serves on all manner of ships, including slavers, but decides that trafficking in slaves, while lucrative, is not for him.
In 1773, John is master of a ship in the West Indies, but when a mutinous crew member dies from a cracked skull after John subdues him in a fight, the governor of Tobago suggests John change his name and leave. Complying, John adds the name "Jones" to his own and goes to Fredericksburg, Virginia to visit his brother William, who owns a business there. John learns from William's clerk and accountant, young Peter Wooley, that his brother died from an illness three months earlier. When John finds that two slave boys, Scipio and Cato, whom his brother planned to free, are in danger of being sold, John vows to see that they will be freed. Wooley suggests that John hire Patrick Henry, a friend of William's, as his lawyer. At a dance, when a British lieutenant haughtily condemns Colonial courage as being no better than the virtue of Colonial women, John slugs him.
Afterward, the lieutenant's commanding officer, Capt. Pearson, apologizes for his conduct. When John attempts to flirt with socialite Dorothea Danders, whom Henry is courting, she warns against a "sudden and swift attack." Taken with Dorothea, John decides to stay in Virginia and buy a farm, but he does not take well to farm life. Dorothea's father, who is a member of the resistance with Henry, rejects John as a suitor because of their illustrious ancestors and John's questionable past. When the war begins, John joins the Continental Navy and, as second-in-command on a battleship in the Bahamas, presents a novel plan to use the Marines in a surprise attack on British troops in Nassau. After the Declaration of Independence is signed, John is assigned his first independent command. He learns that Tories have burned and destroyed his farm and carried off his servants to be sold in Jamaica. John's spirits are raised, however, when his Scottish friend, Duncan MacBean, playing the bagpipes, and Scipio and Cato, playing fife and drums, join Peter in welcoming John's ship. After sailing for Newfoundland, John captures eighteen ships, then gives supplies to Washington's army intended for the British commander General Burgoyne.
After he learns that he no longer can command a ship because he is ranked low among captains, John goes to Valley Forge to deliver his resignation personally to General Washington. When John complains of favoritism and corruption, Washington, whose army suffers from hunger, mutiny and frostbite, castigates him. John then volunteers to serve in any capacity, and Washington sends him to France, hoping that a French alliance could break a possible blockade of the coasts. For his voyage, Washington suggests that John steal the British ship Ranger at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and gather whatever crew he can get. The ship, on its arrival at Brest, is greeted by the first French cannon fire salute ever given to a ship flying the United States flag. In the company of Benjamin Franklin, John is celebrated in Paris as a hero. Aimee de Tellison, the illegitimate daughter of the king, Louis XVI, acts as John's guide to the city. Franklin encourages John to take over a frigate built in Holland and invade the British Isles, hoping that the English people will then protest the war and that insurance rates will rise, creating a financial burden for British commerce. After burning the ships and destroying the cannon at the harbor of Whitehaven, John speaks to the citizenry and relates that George III has likewise raided American shores. He vows not to harm any home or person if they make no attempt to fight, and a citizen leader grants them entry.
After the raid, Lloyd's of London increases its rates on insuring ships, and members of the House of Commons decry the war. John is feted in Versailles, but at a meeting of the Marine Commission, the Ranger is ordered home as the result of a false report that John could not handle his men, sent by an aristocratic underling whom John had humiliated. After Franklin convinces John to remain in France without a ship, Aimee, moved by John's determination to build a new naval power, suggests to the queen, Marie Antoinette, that the Crown finance a frigate. When Franklin points out that the Crown would benefit from fleets John might capture, Louis agrees to the proposal if the ship sails under the American flag and uses as its name Le Bonhomme Richard , the French title of Franklin's most popular work, Poor Richard's Almanac . During the subsequent battle with Captain Pearson's new ship, The Serafis , the traitorous commander of a ship allied with John fires on Le Bonhomme Richard . As John's men are dying, Pearson asks if he is surrendering, and John calls out, "No sir, I have not yet begun to fight!" Though MacBean, Scipio, and many others on the ship die, Pearson ultimately surrenders because of a fire underneath the magazine.
John is awarded a medal and sword at Versailles for his victory, but learns that because Aimee's father is of royal blood, she has been sent away. After the peace treaty is signed, John is told that present finances will not permit him to form an adequate sea force. While waiting for funds to be issued, he goes to Russia in 1790, as Empress Catherine has applied for the loan of his services. At St. Petersburg, Catherine tempts him with dancing girls, then, convinced of his sense of duty, assigns him to the Black Sea, where Russian ships and crews are in bad condition. After John wins the battle against the enemy's ships and fort, Louis bestows on him the rank of chevalier, which could allow him to marry Aimee.
When John becomes very ill, he travels to Paris, where Aimee writes his last letter for him in which he dictates the qualities needed in a naval officer: he must be a gentleman and have a liberal education, fine manners, courtesy, sense of personal honor, tact, fairness and justice. The naval commander on the frigate finishes his tale, saying that John's spirit continues to serve and inspire the Navy.
Jean Pierre Aumont
John Charles Farrow
Reed De Rouen
Félix De Pomés
Roscoe S. Cline
Cecil R. Foster Kemp
Jesse Lasky Jr.
Fleet Admiral Chester M. Nimitz Usn
Rear Admiral J. L. Pratt U.s.n. (ret.)
John Paul Jones
Directed by John Farrow (whose daughter Mia would make her first screen appearance here), the scenario follows the Scottish mariner (Robert Stack) as he plies his trade in the West Indies while discovering his distaste for the slave trade which is crucial to his business. Settling in Virginia, he makes a business acquaintance with attorney Patrick Henry (Macdonald Carey), and finds himself the patriot's romantic rival for socialite Dorothea Danders (Erin O'Brien). Desirous to prove himself loyal to his new land, John seeks and obtains a commission with the Continental navy. The course of his wartime career, and subsequent triumphs and tragedies, are ably played by a cast including Charles Coburn as Ben Franklin, Jean-Pierre Aumont as Louis XVI, and Bette Davis as Catherine the Great.
While Bronston's continuing reputation is primarily staked upon the lavish epics he lensed overseas to take advantage of the comparably modest labor expenditures, his bid to shoot John Paul Jones entirely in Europe raised the ire of the Hollywood American Federation of Labor Film Council, which not only threatened a boycott, but a protest to the U.S. Navy over their cooperation with the movie production. Bronston subsequently agreed to film several sequences stateside in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Recalling the project in his memoir Straight Shooting, Stack concluded that "Doing the life of a major historical figure is a little like having your first love affair. The experience may be terribly meaningful for you, but your audience is usually less than satisfied." He also found that the exacting detail placed into his period finery came with a price. "Unfortunately, the uniforms were made of a heavy, thick material. They were interesting to look at and would have been fine in Scotland, but were miserable to wear in Spain during the height of summer. I felt less like a great American naval figure than a candidate for the main course at one of Colonel Sanders' friendly neighborhood stands."
Bronston and his legendary gift at finagling left the star bemused as well. "He raised huge sums of money as if by magic. One day he showed up on the set with an enormous carpetbag full of exotic currencies - pfennigs, pesetas, francs, lira, and a variety of others I had never seen before, announcing that the currency represented my week's salary. 'I don't know what this stuff is,' I said. 'Give me something I can spend in the good old US of A.'"
Producer: Samuel Bronston
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: John Farrow, Jesse Lasky, Jr.; Clements Ripley (story "Nor'wester"); Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Cinematography: Michel Kelber
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Eda Warren
Cast: Robert Stack (John Paul Jones), Bette Davis (Empress Catherine the Great), Marisa Pavan (Aimee de Tellison), Charles Coburn (Benjamin Franklin), Macdonald Carey (Patrick Henry), Jean-Pierre Aumont (King Louis XVI), David Farrar (John Wilkes), Peter Cushing (Captain Pearson), Susana Canales (Marie Antoinette), Georges Riviere (Russian Chamberlain), Tom Brannum (Peter Wooley), Bruce Cabot (Gunner Lowrie), Basil Sydney (Sir William Young).
by Jay S. Steinberg
John Paul Jones
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.
Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.
Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.
His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).
After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).
Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.
Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).
Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.
by Michael T. Toole
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
The opening credits contain the following statements: "This production is dedicated to Fleet Admiral Chester M. Nimitz, U.S.N., able inheritor of the John Paul Jones tradition. To him we owe much gratitude for his unflagging encouragement and inspiration. We thank the Department of Defense and the officers and men of the United States Navy for their cooperation: also the Government of Spain. We thank too, Mr. Victor Oswald, Production Adviser, for his many services."
According to Warner Bros. production notes and statements made in articles during the production, Samuel Bronston had the idea to make a film about John Paul Jones in 1946 and found that, although various studios had registered the title from the late 1930s, those companies had dropped the idea because of the expense and lengthy screen time necessary to cover the subject adequately.
According to various news items, in 1939, Warner Bros. bought the rights to Clements Ripley's biographical novel about Jones, entitled Clear for Action, which was serialized later in 1939 in The Saturday Evening Post before being published as a book in 1940. James Cagney was to star in the Warner production with his brother, William Cagney, producing, and Michael Curtiz directing. In 1946, a Los Angeles Times news item stated that Jack Warner gave Jerry Wald and Delmer Daves the "green light" for the project. In 1949, according to Daily Variety, the film was going to be produced by Lou Edelman with Cagney starring.
In December 1955, according to Daily Variety, Warner assigned the production rights to Admiralty Pictures Corp., a newly formed company of which Bronston was president. According to Hollywood Reporter, Warner gave the property to Bronston in return for the rights to make a film about Charles Lindbergh, to which Bronston had a claim. The chairman of the board of Admiralty (a precursor to John Paul Jones Productions, Inc.) was R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont, Jr. In addition to Pierrepont, the company was backed by Laurence and Nelson K. Rockefeller, the Charles Dana, Jr. family, James Watriss, Pierre DuPont III, Ernest Gross, C. D. Jackson, Frederick Stern and others, representing General Motors, Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., Eastman Kodak, Time, Inc., a Swiss banking firm and other industrial organizations. The backers were able to use assets frozen in Spain, France and Italy, according to news items, because filming was to be done in Europe, primarily in Spain. Bronston claimed that this film opened up an avenue for financing films that had been previously unavailable.
Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. was signed to do the screenplay in December 1955. According to Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety, he conducted extensive research with Navy officials in Washington and wrote a screenplay in 1956 based on the Ripley book. Later, when John Farrow was hired to direct, Farrow, who liked Lasky's screenplay, asked him to collaborate on a rewrite, but Lasky was unable to work on it at that time. In December 1958, while the film was in post-production, Lasky saw ads listing Farrow as sole writer and heard that Farrow was to get sole screenplay credit. Lasky filed a protest with the Writers Guild of America and ultimately received equal billing with Farrow for the screenplay. Ripley's name, however, does not appear on the film. According to a Daily Variety news item, in July 1956, Bronston signed Ben Hecht to write the script, but no information has been located to confirm that he actually worked on the script. At that time, William Dieterle, who had established a reputation for making biographical films, was assigned to direct. In 1956, Richard Todd and Richard Basehart were both considered for the title role, along with John Miljan for the role of George Washington and John Lupton for that of a French naval officer.
In March 1958, prior to shooting, the Hollywood American Federation of Labor Film Council, representing more than 24,000 members of film unions and guilds, threatened to boycott the film if it was to be shot totally abroad, as was then planned. The group also vowed to protest to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress the Navy's cooperation with the producers, who, they claimed, planned to shoot abroad such historical scenes as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington at Valley Forge, and a ball in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They stated, "We are not protesting the filming abroad of scenes legitimately laid abroad. But we do not think the American public will approve the photographing in Spain of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and other historical American events, especially when such foreign production deprives American craftsmen of sorely needed work."
According to a Daily Variety article, the Council had previously boycotted the 1956 Republic picture Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer because it was filmed in Mexico, although its setting was American, and claimed that the boycott was responsible for that film being withdrawn from release. Hollywood Reporter stated that the group in the previous two years had made numerous motions for a consumer boycott of films made abroad by U.S. firms. Hollywood Reporter speculated that "the tinder which sparked" this protest was the Warner Bros. publicity campaign for the film, which noted that the production hired 150 Spanish women for the roles of "Virginia belles," planning to have the women wear blonde wigs. The Council also threatened to contact the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion concerning their protest.
In April 1958, Daily Variety reported that Bronston had agreed to shoot some scenes in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania in response to the Council's action. Nevertheless, in October 1958, after shooting was completed, the Council voted to conduct a nationwide boycott upon the film's release and complained to the Navy concerning the use of Navy equipment and U.S. Marines in scenes depicting a beach landing filmed in Spain, according to Hollywood Reporter. Bronston stated at the time that although they had planned to use Marines, he hired local extras instead when the Marines were sent to Lebanon unexpectedly. Bronston also said that twenty of the cast and twenty-two of the crew members, along with some of their families, were brought to Europe from the U.S. for the production. He claimed that had the film been made in the U.S., the cost would have been $10,000,000, rather than the actual production cost of $4,000,000. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items add to the cast the following actors: John Stone, Pat Clavin, Stella Gallagher and Charles Lamb. Also added to the cast by a Hollywood Reporter news item is Rosemarie Bowe, who was actor Robert Stack's wife from 1956 until his death in 2003.
According to news items and publicity for the film, shooting was done in Spain at the CEA Studio in Madrid, and at outdoor locations in Galicia, Andalusia, Rota, Benidorm and Denia. Sets for the Scottish village, Whitehaven, a wharf in Delaware and a dock site in Portsmouth, NH were constructed in and around Denia. Shooting was also done in Scotland, at the palace at Versailles, Parliament and King James's Palace in London, the Royal Palace in Madrid, where the throne rooms of Catherine the Great and of Louis XVI were shot, the summer palace at Aranjuez, and state buildings in La Granja, Spain. The film was edited, dubbed and scored in London. Fleet Admiral Nimitz was an adviser and consultant. Rear Admiral J. L. Pratt returned to active duty to act as a technical adviser.
Director Farrow had been a commander in the Canadian Navy and had directed a number of previous sea adventure films. His cousin, Alan Villiers, a British Naval officer during World War II, who also had been the captain of the Mayflower II (a replica of the original ship) on a recent transatlantic voyage, remembered seeing hulks of old sailing ships in Sicily during the war. Villiers oversaw the refurbishment of two of these ships in Ostia, Italy, and was an adviser during filming. Another ship built in Barcelona was also used in the film. According to New York Times, ships from this film were later used in the 1962 film Billy Budd (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). John Charles Farrow and Patrick Villiers, two sons of Farrow and his wife, Maureen O'Sullivan, were in the cast. While production notes state that Bette Davis was paid $25,000 for four days' work, Louella Parsons related that she was to be paid $50,000. An early plan to have Hollywood celebrities who had served in the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard portray seamen of the past did not come to fruition.
In the latter part of 1958, Bronston and Barnett Glassman, who received associate producer credit on the film, traded charges in press and in court regarding ownership of the production company and Glassman's credit for the film. In December 1958, Variety reported that nineteen litigations were pending regarding the company. The two men had worked together on earlier films. No information regarding the outcome of any of the suits has been located. After production, Bronston and Farrow formed a new company to make three films abroad, but this was Farrow's last film before his death in 1963.
For its release in France, the film was called Le capitaine Paul, which was the title of a novel by Victor Hugo about Jones. Hollywood Reporter, in its review, criticized the portrayal of Jones, saying that the film's writers used "only those rumors as were flattering to their subject" while ignoring "other sources that were salty with accounts of brawls, love affairs and humor." Jones, according to Hollywood Reporter, actually killed two mutineers in the West Indies. Hollywood Reporter went on to state: "The film makes no effort to clear up some of the most fascinating enigmas about Jones." Variety was critical of the portrayal of historical characters, stating, "They end, as they begin, as historical personages rather than human beings."
Released in United States 1959
Mia Farrow had a bit part in the film, her screen debut.
Released in United States 1959