John Paul Jones (1959)

 

 

 

 

Director:  John Farrow

Starring:  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 RiviPre (Russian Chamberlain), Tom Brannum (Peter Wooley), Bruce Cabot (Gunner Lowrie), Basil Sydney (Sir William Young), John Crawford (George Washington). 

American naval hero in the U.S. War of Independence, renowned for his victory over British ships of war off the east coast of England (Sept. 23, 1779). Cameo by Bette Davis as Catherine the Great of Russia.  

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Scenes of the modern navy with navy men arriving to board their ship.  In the introduction to the ship, the importance of John Paul Jones to the United States Navy is explained. 

John Paul Jones came from a poor Scottish family.  In 1759 at the age of twelve the boy known as simply John Paul went to sea.  Conditions for the Scots under the rule of the English is shown.  An English officer tells the military men that no bagpipes or kilts (which the officer refers to as skirts) are permitted.  This makes the Scots very mad at the officer.  As the English leave, the young John Paul  throws and hits the officer with an egg and then successfully runs away.  The Scots praise John and then shout the praises of their real rulers, King Jammie and Bonnie Prince Charles.

John's first job on board ship was as a ship's boy on a coaster.  At age seventeen he was a skilled navigator.  He served on different ships, including a slaver (which made him a confirmed opponent of slavery).  By 1773 he was master and part owner of a ship in the West Indies. 

There is talk of mutiny on his ship.  John learns of the threat and starts to leave his cabin, but is confronted immediately by a huge man with others behinds him.  They want their pay right now.  John explains again to them that they will be paid at the agreed upon date.  This is not acceptable to the big guy and John ends up having to knock him down and knock down a couple other mutineers.  In the struggle, in self-defense, John stabs and kills one of the men. 

The death of one of his men gets John brought up on charges.  He has to go to the Governor's Residence in Tobago.  The Governor explains that a trial must be held on the charge of murder and that no bail is allowed.  And the court won't convene for many months.  John tells the governor that he has a brother in Virginia and so the Governor tells him, that since he is not yet officially under arrest, he "should get away from here".  And he tells him to change his last name to a more common one.  So John Paul becomes John Paul Jones. 

When John Paul Jones arrives in Virginia he finds out that his brother William has just recently died.   So John inherits William's trade shop.  The business gives John enough money later to buy a farm.   His business staff, Mr. Wooley the clerk, Mr. MacBean and two black boy slaves, become so inspired by John's stories about the sea that they all look forward to sailing with him in the near future.  (John promises to free the boys at their maturity.)

John meets the famous orator Patrick Henry of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  The Virginian takes a liking to John and invites him to a formal dance with some of the big-shots of Virginia.  At the dance the independence-minded Virginians give a toast to liberty.  This enrages one of the English officers and he shouts "Treason!"  John responds by knocking the man down with one blow.  John is congratulated by the Virginians.  A beautiful young woman named Dorothea is introduced to John.  John takes an immediate liking to her and dances with her. 

In fact, John is so taken by Dorthea that he buys a farm and tells clerk Wooley that "I'm giving up the sea".  His staff is sorry to hear this.  John also says no to the demand for more ship captains.  John just wants to go on more dates with Dorothea.  He goes to see Dorothea's father, who tells John that he is not suitable as a marriage partner for his daughter.  His background is not of the level of his class of people.  He tells John that Dorothea is a cousin of none other than Martha Washington.  He ends by demanding that John leave his house and never see his daughter again.  John leaves and runs into Dorothea.  He tells her what her father said and she adds that her father sees him as an "adventurer" and "pirate".  John tells Dorothea that they will run away together.  But Dorothea does not want to leave her comfortable circle, the only world she has ever known. 

News of the battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, arrives.  The American Revolution has begun. 

John learns that Patrick Henry wants to marry Dorothea.  So John decides to take to the sea and bring along his staff (except for MacBean).  A big problem, however, is that there are only four ships and many ship captains.  The selection of captains at that time was done not on the basis of merit but upon the political connections of those wanting to be captains.  John has to settle for second in command in spite of his longer experience. 

 John's ship is sent northeast of Providence, in the Bahamas.  At John's suggestion, the plan is to attack Fort Montague and after its capture Fort Nassau.  Landing at night, they are able to take the forts without a shot. 

July 4, 1776.  The signing of the Declaration of Independence.  John frees his black slaves.  MacBean arrives on board John's ship.  He tells John that his home and crops have been burned to the ground and his livestock killed.  John blames Lord Dunmore and his Tory friends.  He also learns that Dorothea has been pledged to Patrick Henry. 

John Paul Jones captures 18 ships; 10,000 uniforms, 1,400 tents; many medical supplies and much more.  In spite of this, John is denied captainship because of the eighteen available captains he is number eighteen.  John is angry about the injustice of the appointment system.   He goes to see John Hancock to see if he can do something to help him.  Hancock confirms that the system is to appoint captains without attention to merit and says there is not much he can do for John. 

John is so mad that he travels to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to ask George Washington to assign him a duty in the American army.  But Washington is a bit disappointed with John.  He tells the younger man that it is just his personal bitterness that makes him want to quit the navy.  John is taken aback by this, but soon apologizes to Washington.  But Washington does help John.  He tells John that they have to have a ship that can break through the English naval blockade and make its way to France with a message for Benjamin Franklin, ambassador to France.  The plan is to steal the ship Ranger at Portsmouth and to make John the captain and allow him to recruit his own crew. 

John gets his wish and becomes captain of the Ranger.  He recruits his men, but a naval officer by the name of Simpson is foisted on him for political reasons.  Simpson has a whip made for him with which to flock errant crew members.  John intervenes and has Simpson throw the whip out of one of the ship's windows.  The relationship is not going to be a smooth one. 

They are able to run the blockade and arrive in France.  The French give them a salute with the cannon of the fort in Brest.  John notes that this is the first salute given to the flag of the United States by another country. 

With his messages, John goes to see Franklin, who gives him a warm reception.  Franklin knows of the great exploits of John Paul Jones and wanted to meet the naval hero.  John is introduced to a pretty young French woman named Aimee.  Franklin says that a frigate is being made in Holland and indirectly he wants to get his hands on it.  Meanwhile, Aimee will be John's guide to Paris. 

John makes the bold decision to  invade the British Isles.  Simpson opposes the plan, but to no avail.  Their first target is White Haven.  There his crew burns the shipping and takes the fort.  The men spike all the British cannon.  John's attacks scare Lloyds of London into raising their interest rates on British shipping, thereby taking more funds from the British government.  In his honor John is given a big French dinner.  But in France John has several American opponents.  They complain about John as an adventurer and get John transferred back home.  Mr. Simpson is to be given command of the Ranger.   John is furious, but Franklin tells him not to worry; he has a plan for John.  Simpson's crew deserts to be with John.  Franklin is able to get assistance from the Queen of France.  The new ship will be named in honor of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac as the Bon Homme Richard.  John is given command of the alliance of ships, but soon learns that half his ship's cannon are discards and that two of the captains will actually be independent of John's command. 

John gets into a battle with a British ship.  The enemy ship is a superior vessel, so John decides to use the grappling hooks to bring the two ships together and take over the British ship.  The French ship near John's shoots his cannon at John's ship and then sails away.  In the fight one of John's former black slaves and MacBean are killed.  The Bon Homme Richard is taking a beating and the English captain yells to John asking if he will surrender.  John utters the now famous words:  "I have not yet begun to fight."  The fight continues and it is the English captain that has to surrender his ship.  And it is just in time because the Bon Homme Richard was taking on water and gradually sinking.  John switches his crew to the British ship and his own ship sinks below the water. 

Back in France, John demands to know from Franklin where Aimee is staying.  Franklin tells him that Congress has ordered him back home.  And, besides, Aimee cannot marry a commoner.  The treaty of peace is signed between the United States of America and Britain. 

John Paul Jones fights for a permanent navy.  But it is an uphill battle.  Congress says it just does not have sufficient funds for a permanent navy.  But luckily for John, Catherine the Great of Russia needs him.  He will be given the rank of Rear Admiral and will shape up the ships and crews of the Russian navy.   John travels to the Russian court.  After 32 days of waiting, he finally gets a 1 a.m. meeting with Catherine the Great.  She tells John what she wants him to do.  To John's surprise she speaks both French and English. 

John accepts the challenge.  He reports to the Black Sea fleet and shapes up the ship and the men.  He is able to win a brilliant battle in the Black Sea.  John is made a Chevalier and since now he is nobility he is free to marry Aimee.  But by now, John is seriously ill.  He is brought back to France by several different coaches.  John is reunited with Aimee who boosts his spirits.   

 

Good movie.  It keeps your interest.  It is not that historically correct, but it is interesting enough to motivate those scholastic types to read about John Paul Jones.  For some of the historical inaccuracies, see the review of the movie on IMDB by name theowintrhop. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1747 --  born John Paul in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland.

1759  -- at age 12 apprenticed to to John Younger, a Scottish merchant shipper; sails as a cabin boy to Virginia, where he visita his older brother William at Fredericksburg.

1766  --  when Younger's business fails, Paul finds work as chief mate of a Jamaica-owned slaver brigantine.

1768  --  he quits the slave trade and takes passage for Scotland. When both master and chief mate die of fever, he brings the ship in safely and is appointed a master.

1772   --  purchases a vessel in the West Indies.

1773  --  after killing the ringleader of a mutinous crew, he flees the islands to escape trial and changes his name to John Paul Jones.

1775  -- he returns to Fredericksburg.  When the Revolutionary War breaks out, he goes to Philadelphia and gets a commission as a senior lieutenant in the new Continental Navy. He is assigned to the "Alfred," flagship of the little fleet commanded by Commodore Esek Hopkins.  Jones distinguishes himself in action in the Bahamas and against the British ship "Glasgow" on the return trip.

1776 --  commands the "Providence" and outwits British frigates, manning and sending in eight prizes, and sinking and burning eight more.

1777  --  commands the newly built "Ranger." Jones makes a spectacular cruise through St. George's Channel and the Irish Sea, where he takes a number of prizes.

1778  -- arrives at Brest, France, where he is hailed as a hero.

1779 --  Jones in command of the "Bon Homme Richard" and, accompanied by four small ships, sails around the British Isles. The little squadron intercepts the Baltic merchant fleet under convoy of the British ships "Serapis" and "Countess of Scarborough." A 3 1/2-hour gun battle follows and Jones answers an enemy challenge to surrender with the memorable words, "I have not yet begun to fight!" He wins a stunning victory, though with a heavy loss of life, when the "Serapis" surrenders. The "Bon Homme Richard" sinks soon afterward, so Jones sails both the "Serapis" and "Countess of Scarborough" to the Netherlands. In France Louis XVI rewards him with a gold-hilted sword and makes him a chevalier of France.

1787  --   receives a Congressional gold medal.  

Jones accepts an appointment to the Russian Navy as rear admiral. This was a rough period in his life  --  he is plagued with lack of recognition and false accusation.

1790 --  he returns to Paris embittered and physically broken.

1972, July 18  --  he dies in Paris and is buried in an unmarked grave.

More than a century later, however, U.S. warships escort his remains back to his adopted country, and his grave is now at Annapolis, Maryland, home of the US Naval Academy.

 

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