Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

 

 

Director:     Charles Friend. 

Cast:     John Mills (Capt. Robert Falcon Scott), Diana Churchill (Kathleen Scott), Harold Warrender (Dr. E.A. Wilson), Anne Firth (Oriana Wilson), Derek Bond (Capt. L.E.G. Oates), Reginald Beckwith (Lt. H.R. 'Birdie' Bowers), James Robertson Justice (Petty Off. Edgar 'Taff' Evans), Kenneth More (Lt. E.G.G. 'Teddy' Evans), Norman Williams (Chief Stoker W. Lashly, R.N.),   John Gregson (Petty Off. T. Crean), James McKechnie (Lt. E.L. Arkinson), Barry Letts (Apsley Cherry-Gerrard), Dennis Vance (Charles S. Wright), Larry Burns (Petty Off. P. Keohane, RN), Edward Lisak (Dimitri).

Robert F. Scott's trip to be the first man to reach the South Pole (1910-1912)

 

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

September 9, 1904.  On the ship Discovery Scott just saw the fringes of the continent.  Scott returned to duty with the Navy, but plans for a second expedition were always in his mind.  In 1908 he began to put the plans into practice. 

At home Scott sits for his wife so she can make a bust of him.  There in no money coming from the government this time.  Scott will have to make a public appeal for funds for the South Pole expedition  Scott goes to see his friend scientist Bill Wilson.  He tells Wilson that rival Antarctic explorer Shackleton has not done it.  The man came within 90 miles of the South Pole.  Scott says:  "I'm going back." 

Scott receives letters form plenty of volunteers for the expedition.  A school teacher Helen Field comes to see Scott with money for a sled dog.  Lt. Evans will be second in command.  Scott gives a very short talk asking for money.  Scott accepts a dragoon who came some 6,000 miles to England from India.  The fellow provides a sum of a thousand pounds for the expedition.  

Scott visits explorer Dr. Nansen in Norway.  Amundsen is going to the North Pole with dogs.  The South Pole trip is said to be harder than that to the North Pole.  Scott tells Nansen that he is tacking motorized machines, dogs and ponies.  Nansen tells him just to take dogs, dogs and dogs.  Scott receives a total of 6,042 applications to go on the expedition.  A total of 20,000 pounds comes in.  Scott remarks that it is enough to just make it.  The last man Scott accepts for the expedition is Bowers. 

Scott learns that Amundsen is going to the South Pole.  The whole expedition group is upset.  Scott comments:  "We're not rigged for racing."  Wilson reminds him that it's not a race, but a scientific expedition.  They land at Cape Evans.  Bowers proves very useful to the expedition.  They get the hut up in eight days.  The ship sails away to come back in about a year.  Winter is almost on the men, then they will be at the camp for six months. 

Scott gives the men a briefing.  It is 400 miles to the Great Ice Barrier; another 100 to Beardmore Glacier with 9,000 feet high mountains; and 350 miles to the plateau and then on to the South Pole.  The men will put down depots along the route to be taken in the spring.  With these depots the men will get to the Glacier and then they will abandon the dogs, ponies and machines and resort to "man-hauling".  The goal is to get four men in a position to make a race to the South Pole. 

The ship comes back to Cape Evans to tell Scott that they had come across Amundsen at the Bay of Wales, only 400 miles away.  He has over 100 dogs with him. 

The Polar Night. 

June 22, 1911.  Midwinter.  The men put on entertainment for their amusement.  Scott wonders if Amundsen can do the trip just with dogs.  The man starts 80 miles closer to the Pole than Scott.  Scott says that it's a matter of luck:  it depends on whether or not Amundersen finds a way up past the mountains.

The Return of the Sun.  Sixteen men head out for the start of the journey to the South Pole.  Scott writes that four days out all the ponies are doing well.  One of the motorized sleds goes out, followed by another.  "Now all depends on the ponies."  When they reach the glacier, the men have to shoot the ponies.  Now twelve men man-hauling three sleds will push forward.  

They reach a height of 4,000 feet elevation in five days, barely half-way up the glacier.  Scott says:  "Surely we were right not to bring the dogs on."    One of the fellows falls into an ice crevice, but is rescued. 

Reaching the Plateau, Scott says:  "It should be level going now all the way to our goal."  Now eight men with two sleds go on.  Scott has to consider who are the best four men to continue on to the South Pole itself.  Last letters home will go out tomorrow.  He decides that Lashly and Crean will stay behind for sure.  Scott will go on with Bill Wilson, Oates, and "Taff Evans".  At the last minute Scott decides to bring Bowers along also as a fifth man.  Scott tells the three men left behind that they will see them some time in March. 

The five men find that the snow is now like sand and the going is very tough.  They are encouraged when Scott announces that they are beyond Shakelton at last.  Taff Evans gets a bad cut on one of the fingers of his left hand.  The men now have only 27 miles to go, which hopefully can be made in two good marches.  The men have to go back two miles to find a missing sleeping bag, which cost them time.  When they finally reach the Pole, they see Amundsen's Norwegian flag flying over a tent.  All around the tent are foot prints of the dogs.  Scott remarks that it was a bitter disappointment. 

January 18 the men start for the run home, which would prove to be a desperate struggle.  They have some 900 miles to go.  They set up a sail on the sled, but the problem is that the wind would keep dropping and the men had to bear the full weight of the sled.  Evans hand has become infected and it is very swollen and painful.  The men search for the flag they left on the way to the Pole.  Evans is now very run down and Oates is hurting. 

Taff falls behind and falls face first into the snow.  He dies.  The men bury his body.  The men now finish with the plateau and the glacier.  The men are not going strong.  They are exhausted.  Soldier's (Oates's) foot is bad.  The men are now very low on fuel with which to cook their food.  They might have to go on cold meals.  Soldier's foot is much worse.  They reach a depot, but find that their fuel can is not full.  Soldier remarks to Bill:  "I hope I don't wake tomorrow, Bill."  When Soldier does wake up the next morning, he tells the men that he is going out and it might be a while before he returns.  The man with the bad foot walks away from the tent to his death in the cold. 

The amount of miles covered in one day has now dropped to 8, then to 5.5 and 4.5.  But now they only have 11 miles to cover.  But it's blizzard conditions now.  Scott has a frozen foot and his comrades are afraid that he will never walk again.  Bill says that Birdie (Bowers) and he will try to reach the next depot and return.  They have gone 1,800 miles and only have 11 left to gain access to goods aplenty.  Scott writes to his mother saying that he wished he could have completed his mission. 

The Return of the Sun. 

A group of sledders finds the buried tent belonging to Scott and his two comrades.  They dig it out of the snow and go inside where they discover among other things Scott's journal. 

 

Good movie.  Very interesting learning of all the obstacles that the men faced in their race to the South Pole.  The sound quality on my DVD was very poor and I had to keep going back and forth trying to figure out what the men were saying.  Nevertheless, I followed the expedition with great anticipation.  Enjoyed it. 

Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. d. 

Since I wrote the above, I have seen a much better film (a mini-series) entitled The Last Place on Earth.  It is a superior film in many ways.  First of all, the older movie white-washes the story of Scott.  It is a censored story, like the Scott book about his trip was censored.  There are no strong disagreements or real unpleasantness among the crew.  In the more recent film, it shows that there were deep resentments toward Scott among the crew.  For instance, Oates felt that Scott was not "straight" with his men, that he used them up only for his own ends and then forgot them.  Lt. Teddy Evans resented Scott's leadership and was furious when he was turned down as one of the five going on the last leg of the journey to the South Pole.  The more recent film also shows how much Scott himself resented those crew members who felt he was a poor leader.  Second, the more recent film shows Scott's lack of knowledge and experience with those natives who lived in the North Pole.  Amundsen had such experience and learned a great deal from the native peoples.  He would never have used ponies or motorized sledges in the cold weather of the poles, North or South.  As Nansen says in the first film, instead of ponies, motorized sledges and dogs, he would have used dogs, dogs and dogs.  Scott also was too much in love with the idea of "manhauling".  He had a romantic notion that it was more "manly" if the men reached the pole on their own power, not with ponies, dogs or motorized vehicles, but by pulling the sledges themselves.  Amundsen also had leadership problems, especially with Johansen, but these were minor compared to the leadership problems plaguing Scott.  The Norwegian explorer shows the audience how to do a freezing weather trip in the early 20th century, whereas Scott made just too many mistakes.  Amundsen got in and out quickly, whereas Scott always got bogged down. 

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

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