Two Years Before the Mast (1946)

96 mins | Drama | 22 November 1946

Director:

John Farrow

Cinematographer:

Ernest Laszlo

Editor:

Eda Warren

Production Designers:

Hans Dreier, Franz Bachelin

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The foreword to the film reads: "Since the first ship sailed under an American flag, the men of the American Merchant Marine have served their nation with silent loyalty. In peace and war they have died maintaining our life lines across the world's oceans. Yet for the first half century America left them unhonored, forgotten...slaves of the ship-masters, wearing their lives out in brutal drudgery. Then a lone man, Richard Dana, rose to champion their cause...so forcefully that his message became an American classic. That message began to take form in 1834, as a tall-masted brig approached Boston Harbor." Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s novel Two Years Before the Mast was based on notes he took during a two-year voyage from Boston, around Cape Horn to California and back. The voyage began in Aug 1834 on the brig Pilgrim , and ended 21 Sep 1836 on the brig Alert . Although Dana switched ships, he was under the command of the same captain throughout his voyage.
       In a ship's log, Dana documented the brutality he witnessed, as well as the difficult conditions under which the ships' crews labored. Much of Dana's duties involved the handling of cattle hides on the California coast. Dana reportedly took the trip after a bout with the measles left him with poor eyesight and he was forced to delay his studies at Harvard University. Following the voyage, Dana graduated from Harvard Law School and later became an authority on admiralty law. As in the film, the book contains accounts of unjust floggings by a maniacal captain, crew desertions and incidents of scurvy, but the ... More Less

The foreword to the film reads: "Since the first ship sailed under an American flag, the men of the American Merchant Marine have served their nation with silent loyalty. In peace and war they have died maintaining our life lines across the world's oceans. Yet for the first half century America left them unhonored, forgotten...slaves of the ship-masters, wearing their lives out in brutal drudgery. Then a lone man, Richard Dana, rose to champion their cause...so forcefully that his message became an American classic. That message began to take form in 1834, as a tall-masted brig approached Boston Harbor." Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s novel Two Years Before the Mast was based on notes he took during a two-year voyage from Boston, around Cape Horn to California and back. The voyage began in Aug 1834 on the brig Pilgrim , and ended 21 Sep 1836 on the brig Alert . Although Dana switched ships, he was under the command of the same captain throughout his voyage.
       In a ship's log, Dana documented the brutality he witnessed, as well as the difficult conditions under which the ships' crews labored. Much of Dana's duties involved the handling of cattle hides on the California coast. Dana reportedly took the trip after a bout with the measles left him with poor eyesight and he was forced to delay his studies at Harvard University. Following the voyage, Dana graduated from Harvard Law School and later became an authority on admiralty law. As in the film, the book contains accounts of unjust floggings by a maniacal captain, crew desertions and incidents of scurvy, but the scurvy did not result in the victims' deaths. Also, the book did not contain a romance between a sailor and a female passenger. Although principal photography was completed in Jul 1944, the film was not released until Nov 1946.
       As reported in the Var review, at the time of this film's release, Canadian-born director John Farrow had been only recently discharged from the British and Canadian navies. According to the film's pressbook, it was shot during wartime, completely within the confines of four sound stages at Paramount Studios. The NYT stated that the decision to make the film on land was the result of difficulties encountered in the production of the 1944 Paramount film Frenchman's Creek (see above). In order to create the effect of unlimited sea and sky space, a cyclorama was set up on the walls of the set and was repainted to represent the skies over Pernambuco, Brazil, Cape Horn and the California coast. Images of vast seascapes and moving cloud backgrounds also were projected against a 36-foot transparency screen. As reported in Cue in Jul 1946, unused footage of sea and skyscapes that was shot for the the 1937 film Souls at Sea was intercut into this film. Cue also reported that the Boston wharf and two replicas of the 140-foot Pilgrim were built: one floated in a tank that held 640,000 gallons of water with masts cut at the five-story stage ceiling; and the other was built in a rocking barge in an enormous ditch, with fully rigged 90-foot masts that reached into the Hollywood sky. The ship was "rocked" by a series of supporting rockers that were manipulated by motors. As reported in Paramount News , the storm in the film was created with thousands of pounds of ice, which were ground fine to resemble snow and hail; sprinklers, which poured tons of water down on the heads of the actors; and huge fans for wind. The PCA insisted that the flogging in the film be suggested, not shown, and that the action of "Brown" running a sword through "Thompson" be masked from the audience. According to a contemporary source, the cat-o'-nine-tails used were made out of felt rubbed with red lipstick. According to the pressbook, a genuine cat-o'-nine-tails was borrowed from a collector in Nantucket for visual effect. Alan Ladd and Howard Da Silva reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 22 Sep 1947. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
31 Aug 1946.
---
Cue
20 Jul 1946.
---
Daily Variety
3 Sep 46
p. 3.
Film Daily
23 Aug 46
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 46
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
3 Jun 44
p. 1923.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
20 Jun 46
p. 3055.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
31 Aug 46
p. 3173.
New York Times
25 Sep 46
p. 39.
Variety
28 Aug 46
p. 14.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd asst dir
2nd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir asst
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dressing supv
Props
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Asst spec photog eff
Asst spec photog eff, matte paintings
Asst spec photog eff, matte paintings
Asst spec photog eff, miniatures
Asst transparency projection
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Hairdressing supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Research dir
Research asst
Secy
Secy
Dial coach
Scr clerk
Asst unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (Boston, 1840).
DETAILS
Release Date:
22 November 1946
Production Date:
24 April--14 July 1944
retakes 26 July--29 July 1944
added scenes 11 November 1944
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
22 November 1946
Copyright Number:
LP678
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
96
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 1834, The Pilgrim , a U.S. Merchant Marine ship run by Captain Francis Thompson and owned by Stewart Shipping Company, arrives in Boston from Monterey, California, in record time. Under the orders of Thompson, who brutally abuses his crew, Amazeen, the first mate, who has a blind devotion to his captain, shanghais a crew for the return trip to California. Among those kidnapped are Hayes, a farmer who was not able to notify his wife and children of his departure, and Charles Stewart, the spendthrift son of the company's owner. Stewart quickly learns that the men are fed measly rations while the officers eat fresh chicken, and when he discovers a hungry young stowaway, Sam Hooper, on board, Stewart steals food for the boy and himself, for which the whole crew is punished. Richard Henry Dana, the brother of a sailor who died during the Pilgrim 's last voyage, is onboard to write a book on the atrocities committed under Thompson. When Stewart catches Foster, the second mate, reading Dana's log, they fight, and Stewart is given twenty lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails for assaulting an officer. In Pernambuco, Brazil, the ship picks up passenger Maria Dominguez and her duenna. As a result of Thompson's refusal to pull into port for fresh provisions, Hayes and another crew member die of scurvy. When Sam becomes sick and crew member Brown discovers that Foster has been hoarding fresh vegetables, Brown kills him. Amazeen, increasingly sympathetic to the crew's intolerable conditions, covers for Brown. When a Mexican island is spotted and Thompson still refuses to stop, Stewart pulls a gun on the him, ... +


In 1834, The Pilgrim , a U.S. Merchant Marine ship run by Captain Francis Thompson and owned by Stewart Shipping Company, arrives in Boston from Monterey, California, in record time. Under the orders of Thompson, who brutally abuses his crew, Amazeen, the first mate, who has a blind devotion to his captain, shanghais a crew for the return trip to California. Among those kidnapped are Hayes, a farmer who was not able to notify his wife and children of his departure, and Charles Stewart, the spendthrift son of the company's owner. Stewart quickly learns that the men are fed measly rations while the officers eat fresh chicken, and when he discovers a hungry young stowaway, Sam Hooper, on board, Stewart steals food for the boy and himself, for which the whole crew is punished. Richard Henry Dana, the brother of a sailor who died during the Pilgrim 's last voyage, is onboard to write a book on the atrocities committed under Thompson. When Stewart catches Foster, the second mate, reading Dana's log, they fight, and Stewart is given twenty lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails for assaulting an officer. In Pernambuco, Brazil, the ship picks up passenger Maria Dominguez and her duenna. As a result of Thompson's refusal to pull into port for fresh provisions, Hayes and another crew member die of scurvy. When Sam becomes sick and crew member Brown discovers that Foster has been hoarding fresh vegetables, Brown kills him. Amazeen, increasingly sympathetic to the crew's intolerable conditions, covers for Brown. When a Mexican island is spotted and Thompson still refuses to stop, Stewart pulls a gun on the him, but is disarmed by Amazeen and locked up to await trial for mutiny, which is punishable by hanging. Maria and Stewart have fallen in love, but she is to be married two weeks after her arrival in San Francisco. When The Pilgrim arrives at the island, Maria appeals to a Mexican officer on Stewart's behalf and accuses Thompson of the willful neglect of his crew. Maria leaves, but Stewart promises to find her. When the captain refuses the crew shore leave, the men free Stewart and abandon ship. When Thompson fires at the boat, Amazeen deflects the bullet, then dives into the water to join the crew and is shot by the captain. After the crew returns to the boat to save their lives, Brown knifes the captain and is himself shot by Thompson. The crew mutinies and flees the Mexican authorities. Some months later, in Boston, the crew is arrested, but Dana's book is published and the crew wins the sympathy of the public. Following a Senate investigation, Congress enacts a law in 1855 protecting the seamen of the Merchant Marine. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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