John Paul Jones (1959)

Synopsis:

The life and times of John Paul Jones, played by actor Robert Stack (Written on the Wind and Airplaine!), the father of the United States Navy: from his humble beginnings in Scotland, to Jones’s instrumental role in the American Revolution and beyond.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Whoever heard of sending Marines to fight on the land?”

Undoubtedly handsome, but long-winded and unexciting biopic. John Paul Jones’s eventful and interesting life is ripe for movie treatment. Unfortunately, John Paul Jones is mostly a good-looking but monotonous collection of the famous man’s best known accomplishments.

The film has one purpose and one purpose only: pay tribute to an American icon. John Paul Jones is respectful to a fault. This big-budget production tends to stay close to the truth, only diverging from facts when it wants to avoid unpleasantries. Historians tell us that Jones was a conflicted man — at one point he was accused of both murder and rape — so it is a disappointment that the film portrays him as a saint.

John Paul Jones does have a few things going for it. You can tell that this was an expensive production. The movie was lavishly produced in Europe by movie mogul Samuel Bronston (El Cid and 55 Days at Peking). Michel Kelber’s (French Can Can) color cinematography is glossy and Max Steiner’s (Now, Voyager) score is grand (it isn’t one of his best scores, but it is bombastic enough to convey the idea of epic).

Robert Stack is just okay as Jones. Marisa Pavan (The Rose Tattoo) plays Stack’s love interest and Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier), in his last film role, plays Benjamin Franklin. Peter Cushing (Evil of Frankenstein) plays a British officer. Thirteen-year-old Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s’ Baby), whose father John Farrow (Wake Island) directed the film, allegedly had a bit part, but I didn’t see her!

Bette Davis shows up near the end of the film as Catherine the Great of Russia, a 4-minute cameo. Davis was paid an obscene amount of money for her minuscule role. You can sense Davis’s desperation to make her few scenes count, but it’s not worth the effort. Granted, her scenes were severely cut — Davis spent four days shooting her scenes and was furious to discover that most of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

John Paul Jones failed as a blockbuster. Critics weren’t kind either. There is no doubt about it, the movie is a little too self-important. John Paul Jones treats the famous naval officer as a sacred cow. Jones deserved a movie, that’s for sure, but not this flaccid treatment of his colorful life. Maybe someday we’ll get a really good movie about one of USA’s most interesting historical figures. Color, 126 minutes, Not Rated.

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