My parents thought that "the holidays" meant "put the kids in front of the TV so we can ignore them." To me, "the holidays" have always meant movies on TV: We watched The Sound of Music at Christmas, The Ten Commandments at Easter, and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang at Thanksgiving.
To this day, I spend my holidays mostly watching movies.
Sadly, there are zilch movies about Thanksgiving. Can you believe that? The Thanksgiving holiday has the most-traveled day of the year (the day before Thanksgiving). More food is sold during Thanksgiving than Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Independence Day. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving is the traditional kick-off of the American year-end holiday season.
But nada on film.
Oh, I take that back. There are five movies...kind of. Only one film (Plymouth Adventure) is about Pilgrims, and it's amazingly non-historical. One film is about two guys trying to get home for Thanksgiving (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), but not about the holiday per se. One (The Ice Storm) occurs during the days just before and after the Thanksgiving holiday but is not about the holiday per se. One starts on Thanksgiving (Miracle on 34th Street), but is really about Christmas. One has just one scene set during Thanksgiving (Holiday Inn).
But two of these are two of my favorite films of all time.
Miracle on 34th Street (Fox, 1947; George Seaton, dir.) - Not merely one of the best Thanksgiving movies ever, this is also one of the best Christmas movies ever -- and, arguably, one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time. This was only director George Seaton's third motion picture. (Ironically, he would direct nearly 30 pictures. Nearly all of them are mediocre efforts...except for one of his last films, the thrilling Airport.)
The film stars Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker, John Payne as Fred Gailey, Natalie Wood as Susan Walker, Gene Lockhart as Judge Henry X. Harper, Jerome Cowan as D.A. Thomas Mara, and William Fawley as Charlie Halloran.
The film's plot is well-known: Doris Walker runs the Macy's special events team, overseeing the Thanksgiving Day parade and the department store's Santa Claus. When the man played to portray Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade turns up drunk, Walker asks a kindly old man calling himself Kris Kringle to replace him. Kringle turns out to be such a natural Santa Claus that he's hired to be the Macy's Santa Claus for the entire season. But Kringle really believes himself to be Santa Claus. Soon, Kringle is sending customers to other stores so that children can get the proper toy for Christmas -- to the horror of Macy's executives, but to the joy of the public. Kringle becomes an overnight media sensation, and customers flock to Macy's. Kringle is intrigued by Doris, an embittered divorcee, and her daughter, a bright but sensible little girl named Susan. Kringle tries to get them to believe in faith, hope and goodness again. Kringle is helped by Doris' handsome neighbor, a young attorney named Fred Gailey. But when the bitter Macy's company psychologist manages to get Kringle locked up for insanity, it's up to Fred to try to free him and time for Doris and Susan to decide whether they are going to have faith in anything again.
Gwenn won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, beating out Charles Bickford (The Farmer's Daughter), Thomas Gomez (Ride the Pink Horse), Robert Ryan (Crossfire) and Richard Widmark (Kiss of Death).
Valentine Davis won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story, beating out Georges Chaperot and René Wheeler (A Cage of Nightingales), Herbert Lewis and Frederick Stephani (It Happened on Fifth Avenue), Eleazar Lipsky (Kiss of Death), and Frank Cavett and Dorothy Parker (Smash Up - The Story of a Woman).
Seaton won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay, beating out Richard Murphy (Boomerang!), John Paxton (Crossfire), Moss Hart (Gentleman's Agreement), and David Lean, Ronald Neame, and Anthony Havelock-Allan (Great Expectations).
The film was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Gentleman's Agreement, a film about a reproter who goes undercover to examine anti-Semitism in American which starred Gregory Peck. Other nominees that year were the superb Christmas film The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, and Great Expectations.
Macy's was founded in 1851 by Rowland Hussey Macy, a Quaker businessman. The original Macy's store was in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Macy's moved to New York City in 1858 and the first department store built on the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue. The store later moved to 18th Street and Broadway, New York City's elite shopping district in the latter half of the 19th century. Macy died in 1877. In 1893, Macy's was acquired by Isidor Straus. (Straus, a former Congressman and importer of porcelain and china, would later die aboard the Titanic in 1912. Ida Straus famously refused to leave the ship, saying "We lived together, we shall die together.") In 1902, Macy's moved to Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway -- the site depicted in the motion picture.
In one scene, R.H. Macy (who by the time the film was released had been dead almost 75 years) says that Macy's will expand its "send the customers to other stores" policy to the company's department stores in Toledo, Atlanta, Newark, San Francisco, and Kansas City. The Kansas City store had been purchased mere months before the film's release, and still retained its original name ("John Taylor Stores"). Although it had been purchased in 1929, the Toledo store, too, retained its original name ("LaSalle's") at the time of the picture's release. It did not adopt the Macy's name until 1984.
The Ice Storm (Fox, 1997; Ang Lee, dir.) - I think The Ice Storm is one of the most important films of the late 1990s. It certainly helped cement Ang Lee's reputation as a filmmaker after his amazing American debut with the gay-themed The Wedding Banquet. The book is by novelist Rick Moody, and is his second work of fiction. Lee had forged a writer-director partnership with screenwriter James Schaumus. Schaumus' wife had gone to school with Moody, and brought the 1994 novel to her husband's attention. Schaumus took the book to Lee, who was deeply impressed with it. For Lee, the critical scene is where Ben Hood is driving on the icy road on the morning following the storm and finds the dead body of Mikey Carver. Everything in the novel led up to that point, and the family's desperate, heart-broken reunion later that morning as they picked up son Paul at the train station.
The Ice Storm revolves around two sets of families in 1974: The Carvers and the Hoods. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and his wife Elena (Joan Allen) are uptight, upper-middle-class parents to teenage son Paul (Tobey Maguire) and daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci). Jim Carver (Jamey Sheridan) and wife Janey (Sigourney Weaver) are even wealthier, but they are also more liberal and have less interest in their two sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). During the Thanksgiving holiday, Paul and Wendy torture their parents with disturbing questions about the immorality practiced by the Nixon Administration, as well as their knowledge about sex and drugs. While their parents scold and punish them for crossing the line on any number of taboos (including Wendy's sexual experimentation with both Mikey and Sandy), father Ben Hood is secretly having an affair with Janey Carver. Elena Carver, meanwhile, has turned to shoplifting as a way of ending her boredom.
The day after Thanksgiving, Paul heads for New York City where he hopes to spend the night with Libbets (Katie Holmes), a rich and beautiful but down-to-earth girl he has a crush on and with whom he hopes to lose his virginity.
The Carvers and Hoods, meanwhile, attend a swingers' party. Elena, suspecting her husband is having an affair, accidentally hooks up with Jim Carver. Janey Carver, meanwhile, hooks up with a handsome young stud -- infuriating Ben Hood. At the Hood home, Wendy taunts Sandy for not having entered puberty and tries to sleep with Mikey. That night, a terrible ice storm hits Connecticut, leading to several confrontations....and a horrific death.
The Ice Storm is one of the few films to deal with the sexual upheaval of the late 1960s in adult, unsensationalistic way. Unlike the preachy anti-sex prudery of Forrest Gump or the "drugs and sex lead to damnation" whirlpool of Boogie Nights, this film treats people as people. Some find freedom in their experimentation, some do not. Some cope with this freedom, some do not. Not everyone is destroyed by extra-marital affairs or free love or drug use, but some are. And almost everyone is unprepared for what is happening to them, because the social milieu from which they come and which they find themselves in (middle-class Judeo-Christian values, family, marriage, suburbia) simply does not allow them the intellectual or emotional freedom to become prepared.
When I got my first DVD player, I bought three films: The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Boogie Nights, and The Ice Storm. That should tell you what I think of this film.
Holiday Inn (Paramount, 1942; Mark Sandrich, dir.) - Holiday Inn is one of the classic musical films, and one of the best-loved Christmas films as well...but more on that later. The film was really the brainchild of composer Irving Berlin (the composer of such songs as "God Bless America", "White Christmas", "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Easter Parade", "Heat Wave," "This Is the Army," "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better", and "There's No Business Like Show Business"). In 1933, Berlin was working on a revue (a sequence of light comedy skits, songs, and jokes with no unifying plot). The revue became known as As Thousands Cheer, and it included one of Berlin's biggest hits so far: "Easter Parade." The song inspired Berlin, who thought about writing a play in which each scene occurs during an American holiday. But the play never got written.
Berlin went to Hollywood in 1926, where he was commissioned to write songs for motion pictures. His first big hit was "Blue Skies," which appeared in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer. He began to write films as well as compose music for them, and in 1929 penned the first Marx Brothers picture, The Cocoanuts. He wrote Puttin' on the Ritz (which contained the hit song of the same name) in 1930 and adapted Alexander's Ragtime Band for film in 1931. He wrote the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, Top Hat in 1935, and followed it up Follow the Fleet (1936), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), and On the Avenue (1937).
In 1940, Berlin signed a contract with Paramount to turn his holiday-themed play into a film. Early in the year, Berlin decamped to the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. Berlin usually stayed up all night writing, but penned what he thought was a showstopper early in the morning while sitting by the pool. That same morning, Berlin walked to his secretary's room and said, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"
Irving Berlin's first idea was to include "Easter Parade" in the film, which was accepted by director Mark Sandrich. Berlin tried to pitch a Christmas song, too, but Sandrich rejected it. Berlin liked the music, however, and kept working on the lyrics. Without telling Sandrich, he inserted the song into the rehearsal music. Bing Crosby was cast as one of the leads. Crosby was nearing the height of his popularity. He had completed Pennies from Heaven (1936), Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Birth of the Blues (1941), and Road to Morocco (1942), and was just two years away from his Best Actor Oscar for Going My Way. Crosby sang the song Berlin had written. Unimpressed but not willin to remove the song, Crosby said, "We won't have any trouble with that one, Irving."
The song was "White Christmas."
Holiday Inn is about many holidays, not just Thanksgiving. Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a Broadway hoofer. Fred Astaire is Ted Hanover and Virginia Dale is Lila Dixon -- Hardy's partners on stage. Jim Hardy is in love with Lila Dixon, but Lila has falled for Ted instead. Discouraged, Hardy decides to quit show business and retire to a farm in Connecticut. A year later, Hardy has returned to New York City. His farm is failing, and he has a new idea: Turn the farm into an inn, and open it only on holidays. He meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), an aspiring singer who wants to work at the new "Holiday Inn." Hardy and Mason pretend to be big-shots to one another on Christmas Eve, but the next day realize they should be honest with one another. Hardy sings "White Christmas" to her, which would have been his big number had the Inn been open the night before. Meanwhile, Lila Dixon has dumped Ted Hanover for a millionaire. Distraught, Hanover heads for Holiday Inn, where he gets drunk and performs an outrageous dance number ("The Drunk Dance") with Linda Mason while slockered. The next day, Hanover can't remember who he danced with, and Mason refuses to admit it was she. Over the next several holidays (Lincoln's Birthday, Valentine's Day, Washington's Birthday, Easter), Ted tries to discover his dancing partner's identity. He finally realizes it was Linda, and tries to steal her away from Jim Hardy. On Independence Day, Jim, Ted and Linda learn that some Hollywood executives will be in the audience. Worried that Linda will leave, Jim tries to have her arrival at the inn repeatedly delayed. Meanwhile, Lila Dixon has shown up -- having left her millionaire lover. She, too, tries to sabotage Linda's career so that she can go to Hollywood. But Linda arrives and the executives want her to come to Hollywood....so she leaves. On Thanksgiving, the Holiday Inn is closed and Jim cannot bear to listen to his new song, "I've Got Somthing to Be Thankful For." His housekeeper urges him to go to Hollywood and get Linda back. It's now Christmas Eve, and Linda is preparing to shoot her final scene before leaving with Ted to get married. Jim interrupts them, and sings "White Christmas." Realizing she loves Jim after all, Linda rushes into his arms. Holiday Inn reopens for New Year's.
Filming on Holiday Inn took place between November 1941 and February 1942. The film premiered in New York City at the Paramount Theatre in August 1942. It was a runaway success both in the U.S. and the U.K., and was the highest-grossing musical up to that time.
"White Christmas," however, had its debut nine months earlier. Crosby sang the song on his top-rated NBC radio show, "The Kraft Music Hall," on Christmas Day, 1941. The recording of that performance has not survived.
Crosby recorded the song for the first time with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942. It was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm songs from the film.
Initially, "White Christmas" was not much of a hit. But by the end of October, "White Christmas" had become the #1 song in America. It remained in that position for 11 weeks, and stayed in the Top 10 until the end of January 1943. "White Christmas" became a #1 song again in November and December of 1945 and yet again in December 1946. It is the only single in history with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts.
Eventually, Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" sold more than 50 million copies. Including all versions and covers, it has sold more than 100 million copies. Crosby's "White Christmas" is the best-selling single in any music category. Crosby inluded it on his 1949 holiday collection Merry Christmas. That LP has never been out-of-print since.
But the 1942 recording is not the one we hear today.
The original master of "White Christmas" was heavily damaged between 1942 and 1947 due to its frequent use in making more copies. Crosby went back to the Decca studios on March 18, 1947, to re-record "White Christmas." Every effort was made to reproduce the original Decca recording session, including bringing back the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers. This rerecording is the one you hear today.
"White Christmas" was so popular that Holiday Inn was remade in 1954 as White Christmas.
In 1952, Memphis, Tenn., homebuilder Kemmons Wilson named his newly-opened motel after the film. Wilson was disappointed by the quality and consistency provided by the roadside motels of the day, and so established a chain of motels which would be standardized, high-quality, but inexpensive. The name "Holiday Inn" was given to the chain by Wilson's architect as a joke.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Paramount, 1987; John Hughes, dir.) - Is this the modern classic road trip movie? When you think of Bing Crosby, you think of the Hope-and-Crosby "Road" movies. With Thanksgiving including the busiest travel day of the year, it's no small wonder that a film about Thanksgiving has included a huge travel mix-up.
It was Hughes' next screenplay for the imprint, National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), however, that would prove to be a major hit, putting the Lampoon back on the map. Although Hughes had no involvement in European Vacation (1985), he did return to write and co-produce Christmas Vacation (1989) based on another of his Lampoon stories.
John Hughes was a former advertising copy writer (his most famous commericial was for Edge shaving cream, which showed a man shaving with a credit card) who broke into film when his short story, "Vacation '58," was turned into 1983's runaway comedy hit, Vacation (starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo). The following year, he directed his first film, the smash Sixteen Candles. Over the next few years, Hughes directed a string of hits which have since come to define '80s cinema: The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).
Determined not to be seen as a director of teen comedies, Hughes settled on an adult comedy as his next film. Hughes decided to use Thanksgiving as his context because (along with Christmas) it is the prototypical "family holiday" and provides a ready-made excuse for mayhem with all the travel that occurs just prior to the big event. For his cast, Hughes needed to exceptional comedians, but people who would not bring a lot of baggage to the script. He settled on Steve Martin and John Candy. Both comedians were known for their low-brow humor (Martin for The Jerk and Candy for "SCTV"). Neither had done much acting, and neither had been put to the test in high-brown comedy. Hughes wrote the screenplay with both actors in mind (particularly Candy's role as Del Griffith).
Hughes had just finished shooting She's Having a Baby (1988), and he used Planes, Trains and Automobiles as a means of promoting that film. In the motel room scene, it's playing on telvision -- even though the film wouldn't be released in theaters for another year. When Steve Martin phones his wife from the airport to tell her that he's been delayed, Hughes used a scene from She's Having a Baby as background (you can hear Elizabeth McGovern scream that she doesn't like her friend's girlfriend). Hughes also used actor Kevin Bacon in PT&A. At the beginning of the movie, Steve Martin races Bacon for a taxi. The bit is an homage to a scene in Kevin Bacon's movie Quicksilver (1986), in which Bacon races someone on a bicycle.
The shoot was a difficult one. Hughes himself was going through a difficult personal time in his life, and was prone to anger on the set. Making matters worse, Hughes had decided to cut costs by filming during the winter, so that the production wouldn't have to manufacture fake snow for various scenes. But the winter of 1987 proved to be one of the warmest on record! Filming began in Illinois, but the weather was so warm that the production packed up and headed for New York state -- which had just seen snow. By the time the cast and crew reached Buffalo, however, the snow had melted. With weather in the Midwest still exceptionally warm, the production was forced to use fake snow for the scenes at night on the highway. The production returned to Chicago for more shooting, where additional fake snow had to be applied to roadsides. The location experts had trouble finding a home appropriate for the film. In the end, Hughes simply gave up: Steve Martin's Chicago home was built from scratch. It was an actual home, took five months to build, and cost $100,000. Topping it off, no rail, airline or rental car company wanted to lend its name and imagery to the film. So the production was forced to rent 20 miles of abandoned train track, purchase and refurbish old railroad cars, and construct a train terminal. The production team also had to design a rental car company from scratch (including logos, uniforms, counters, computer equipment, and vehicles), and rent more than 250 cars. Even an airline terminal had to be built from scratch, as no airport wanted to be depicted in the film. Even worse, Hughes seemed unsure of himself and unable to make up his mind when it came to shooting the picture. Over 600,000 feet of film -- twice the average -- was shot. The first cut of the film ran to more than three hours, and was such a mess that Hughes and his editor began slashing major sections from the film.
Paramount Pictures executives went ballistic at the movie's cost overruns. As the film neared completion, Hughes was forced to use footage of an airplane in flight from the "storm sequence" of the comedy film Airplane! (1980) to avoid incurring any additional costs.
PT&A contains a "classic Hughes" ending. Ever since Sixteen Candles, Hughes had tended to end his comedies on quiet, painfully honest, emotional moments. This comes in PT&A when Neal Page (Martin) finally parts from Del Griffith (Candy) at the train station. Page goes home to his happy family and Thanksgiving feast, only to have his wife naively ask why he didn't bring Del with him. Page quickly realizes that Griffith has been covering up the truth of his situation all along: Del's wife, Marie, has been dead many years, and Del has no home to return to (he lives his life on the road). Del's attraction to Neal has been one of desperate friendship, of a lonely man in terrible need of company. Once this truth is known, Neal Page takes pity on Del Griffith, and invites him into his home. For his part, Del loses his manic energy and becomes more human.
PT&A is a relatively family-friendly film. That is, except for one infamous scene... When Neal Page (Martin) confronts a particularly petty rental car agent (the exceptional Edie McClurg, a Hughes favorite) after finding that the rental car he'd just obtained wasn't there after all. In that scene, Steve Martin says the wrod "fucking" 18 times in exactly one minute. It ends with McClurg smirking and saying, "Well, you're fucked." That scene alone led the MPAA to give the film an "R" rating.
Plymouth Adventure (MGM, 1952; Clarence Brown, dir.) - Can this really be the only Pilgrim movie ever made by Hollywood???? Well, yes, actually.
The film is based on the book of the same name by Czech immigrant Ernest Gebler. The story is a highly fictionalized version of the Pilgrim voyage to America.
The real story is this: The Puritans were an emerging religious sect in England in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Followers of John Calvin, most Puritans wanted to reform the Church of England. But some felt the C of E was too corrupt, and wanted to separate from it completely and form what they called "primitive" congregations (which adhered more closely to Biblical standards of living and governance). The homosexual, King James I (of the "King James Bible" and Guy Fawkes and the Gundpowder Plot), began to openly persecute the Puritans and separatists in 1604. (This would have disastrous consequences: The Puritans only grew in strength, and James' son, Charles I, would be beheaded in 1649 after a horrific civil war. The Puritan dictator, Oliver Cromwell, would rule England from 1653 to 1658. In 1688, Charles' grandson, James II, would be deposed. And in 1776, when the American colonies rebelled, they would be so terrified of more than 200 years of British civil war and religious strife that they would adopt a constitution which prized gridlock over decisive action and enshrined the separation of church and state.) In 1607, the Bishop of York actually raided many Puritan homes and imprisoned members of the faith. A congregation of separatists from the village of Scrooby left England and emigrated to Leiden in The Netherlands in 1609. Unused to the industrial life of Leiden, however, the Pilgrims (as they called themselves) never adjusted to Dutch society. In 1618, Pilgrim leader William Brewster published comments highly critical of the James I and the Church of England, and English authorities actually traveled to Leiden to try to arrest him. Brewster escaped.
Meanwhile, James I had essentially contracted out the settlement of English lands in North American to a slew of private companies. One such firm, the London Virginia Company, agreed to let the Pilgrims settle their land at the mouth of the Hudson River. To fund their settlement, the Pilgrims asked the Merchant Adventurers, a group of Puritan businessmen, to pay for enough food and gear to allow the colony to survive a whole year. In return, the Pilgrims would send furs, precious metals, artwork, and agricultural products back to England for sale by the Merchant Adventurers. The Pilgrims bought passage on two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. Numerous delays meant that the Speedwell did not depart The Netherlands until July 1620. The Speedwell traveled to Southampton, England, which it rendezvoused with the other ship, the Mayflower. Joining the journey at this point was William Brewster, who had been in hiding for the past year. Also boarding the ships was a group known as "The Strangers," non-Puritans who were supposed to help the colony survive. Among the Strangers were Myles Standish, a former soldier; Christopher Martin, who would act as temporary governor of the colony until it was firmly established; and Stephen Hopkins, a colonist from a failed colony.
Further delays meant that the Mayflower and Speedwell did not depart until August 15. The Speedwell suffered major leaks, and the colonists returned to England twice. The Speedwell was abandoned, and its 30 passengers and supplies put aboard the already-crowded Mayflower. The Mayflower, captained by Christopher Jones, left Plymouth on September 6, 1620. The voyage took almost two months, with the ship battered by storms and strong winds.
The Mayflower sighted Cape Cod on November 9, 1620. Captain Jones attempted to sail for the Hudson River by navigating between Cape Cod and Nantucket Island, but rip currents and bad winds forced the ship to return to Cape Cod. The passengers decided to abandon their original landing plans, and settle down. The Mayflower anchored at what is now known as Provincetown, Mass., on November 11, 1620. Some Pilgrims felt they had no legal authority to establish a colony, so colonist William Bradford and others drafted a new governing document for the colony, the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims finally set foot on land on November 13.
Over the next 15 days, the Pilgrims would rob Native American graves, steal caches of Indian corn, and fire their guns in anger at the natives. Terrified that the natives would attack them in turn, the Pilgrims returned to the Mayflower and moved to what is now known as Plymouth, Mass. They set foot on land at Plymouth on December 17.
While the Mayflower was anchored at Provincetown, William Bradford's wife, Dorothy, died. Bradford never mentioned her death in his journal, and nearly 50 years later Cotton Mather (who was not present) declared she drowned. In June 1869, "Harper's New Monthly Magazine" declared (in a work of fiction) that she committed suicide.
Plymouth Adventure tries to turn all of this into a Hollywood drama. It stars Spencer Tracy as Capt. Christopher Jones, the beautiful Gene Tierney as Dorothy Bradford, Van Johnson as John Alden, Leo Genn as William Bradford, Barry Jones as William Brewster, and Lloyd Bridges as Coppin. The story begins in Plymouth as the Mayflower is making its final voyage to the New World. Coppin is a stowaway who doesn't realize he's fallen in with prudish religious zealots. He provides comic relief throughout the picture. Most of the action involves the "awful" sea voyage, the "terrifying" storms, the finding of lice on everyone (the horror! the horror!), the birth of a baby at sea, and -- most importantly -- a growing love between Dorothy Bradford and Capt. Jones. Apparently, William Bradford is too saintly and pure to take advantage of Goodwife Bradford's lusty womanly charms, so she turns to Captain Jones for solace. This being a film from the 1950s, of course, adultery cannot be tolerated. Bradford begins to suspect that Jones is schtupping his wife (in the Biblical fashion) once they drop anchor at Provincetown. Jones is unwilling to give Dorothy up, and William Bradford demands a duel. Dorothy commits suicide by leaping over the railing and drowning so that the two men don't have to fight and history can be made.
The picture won the Oscar for Best Effects (there were no other competitors).
The film was directed by Clarence Brown, a legendary director in Hollywood. It was his second-to-last film. Brown had directed the original The Last of the Mohicans (1920), the scandalous pre-Code Flesh and the Devil (1926), the luminous Greta Garbo in Anna Christie (1930), the film version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), Gregory peck in The Yearling (1946), Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), Intruder in the Dust (1949) and the original Angels in the Outfield (1951). He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director six times, for The Yearling, National Velvet, The Human Comedy (1943), A Free Soul (1931), and twice in 1930 for Anna Christie and Romance. His The Human Comedy was also nominated for Best Picture. He directed 10 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, Norma Shearer, Marie Dressler, Beulah Bondi, Charles Boyer, Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. (Barrymore and Revere won Oscars for their performances.)