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John Paul Jones
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10 from 611 votes
Release: 16 June 1959 (USA) /

John Paul Jones

Genre: Action, Adventure, Biography, History
Director: John Farrow,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The swashbuckling adventures of the hero of the Revolutionary War. His contributions weren't always appreciated by the new U.S. government. After the way Congress show their displeasure by sending him to the Russia of Catherine the Great. Written by Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

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Critic Reviews

Although the writing credits on this film mention a story by one of the writers called "Nor'wester", it seems the roots of this film go further back. A brilliant, unscrupulous hack named Augustus Buell wrote a series of so-called biographies at the turn-on-the-century of various American heroes. His biography of Andrew Jackson is like his biography of John Paul Jones - he "embellished" it. In the biography of Jackson Buell (unfortunately) invented the charming quote that Jackson's two greatest regrets were never hanging John C. Calhoun for treason, and never killing Henry Clay in a duel. Unfortunately Buell's lies have been quoted by better historians for decades. Marquis James' Pulitzer Prize Winning biography of Jackson used Buell a-plenty. His work on the life of Jones was so damaging to scholars that the great historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote an in-depth appendix of the lies Buell wrote. An example: Buell said there was a love triangle in Virginia between Patrick Henry, John Paul Jones, and the woman they both loved (whom Henry married). This never happened. It is in the film JOHN PAUL JONES.

Not everything is in the film. Buell had a fictitious quote from Napoleon I that he would have used Jones (who lived his last years in Paris)to head his navy against Nelson at Trafalgar. Napoleon never said that - and probably did not even know who Jones was. A lot of Buell was removed - but a lot remains in it.

The film also suffers from the star. Robert Stack was an admirable Elliot Ness on television, and had a goofy streak he revealed in AIRPLANE, CADDYSHACK II, 1941, and other late films. But he could seem stiff and overblown - and he does so in this film. He does seem properly heroic, but he rarely shows the darker side of Jones' character. He was a disciplinarian, and harsh tempered. He probably was responsible for killing two crewmen, one who tried to strike the flag of the Bon Homme Richard during the battle with the Serapis, and one just before the war, when Jones was Captain John Paul of the British merchant marine. In the earlier instance Jones knocked down a mutinous (or seemingly mutinous) seaman, and the other crewmen were ready to bring charges against him with the British authorities. This led to Jones fleeing to the 13 colonies, and changing his name.

Another thing cleaned up (or at least changed) is the career of Jones as a Russian Rear Admiral under Empress Catherine the Great (Bette Davis). The film suggests that the Empress hired Jones, in part, due to his attractive appearance (after all, the Empress had all those affairs). Actually she hired him needing able sea commanders to fight the Turks in the Black Sea. And the experiment did not work because of jealousy by Russian commanders (possibly assisted by Catherine's chief minister Potemkin - whom the famous battleship in the Eisenstein movie is named after). Also, Jones left under a scandal - he may have picked up an underage girl, and was arrested (but released when he agreed to leave Russia). It was then that he moved to Paris (where he died in 1792). Oh, Benjamin Franklin died in 1790 in Philadelphia - he had stopped being Minister to France in 1784 (when he was replaced by Thomas Jefferson). He could not be present when Jones is dying in 1792 in Paris (as he is in the film). Well - it is a movie.

Some of the history is correct. Jones was (with John Barry and Joshua Barney) the only American Revolutionary naval heroes to win battles against the British. Jones (with Franklin's help) did remarkable work with three ships: the Richard (named for Franklin's "Poor Richard"), the Alliance, and the Ranger. He did sizeable damage to British commerce, and (best of all) actually raided the British Isles (his old home area in Scotland). The battle scenes dealing with the climactic duel between the "Richard" and the "Serapis" is well done. It even reminds us to the bizaare behavior of Captain Landais, a French madmen who was in command of the "Richard"'s companion ship, who actually fired on the "Richard" during the battle.

Also, on a minor note - in one moment of the film Stack is angry about the delays from Congress in giving him a ship, confronting the head of the Naval Committee. This is Mr. Hewes of North Carolina. It oddly enough fits in as a sequel to a minor figure in the musical 1776: Mr. Joseph Hewes of North Carolina is the leader of that state's congressional body, who frequently waits for the mentally stronger Edmund Rutledge of South Carolina to vote first. He also criticizes the Declaration of Independence for failing to include anything about "deep sea fishing rights" See, even there Mr. Hewes was concentrating on sea matters.

So the film does have some moments worth watching. But it is too stiff and too long.

If you want to know more about Jones, read the biography of Jones by Morison, or the more recent biography that has been published. At least you will get the full and true story.

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