The last film directed by Clarence Brown, it features an Ensemble Cast including Spencer Tracy as Captain Christopher Jones, Gene Tierney as Dorothy Bradford, Van Johnson as John Alden, Leo Genn as William Bradford, Barry Jones as William Brewster, Dawn Addams as Priscilla Mullins, and Lloyd Bridges as First Mate Robert Coppin. The musical score was composed by Miklós Rózsa.
The movie was a Box Office Bomb, which might explain why there haven't been many other films about the Mayflower voyage, despite its importance to U.S. history. Still, it managed to score the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
This film has the examples of:
- Adaptational Jerkass: Or perhaps "historical jerkass upgrade," since he was a real person. In any case, the real Captain Jones was regarded by the Pilgrims as an easy-going, respectful guy. The film portrays him as an embittered cynic who starts off hating the Pilgrims so that he can get Character Development. Also, the real Jones was a family man with eight children whereas the film portrays him as a single womanizer.
- Burial at Sea: William Butten is given one after he dies of "lung fever."
- The Captain: Captain Jones is, whaddya know, the captain of the Mayflower. Within the film's ensemble cast, he's the closest thing there is to a main character.
- The Cavalier Years: The time period, of course.
- Culture Clash: Much of the film focuses on the divide between the hard-bitten sailors and the idealistic Pilgrims, with the sailors seeing the Pilgrims as pious sissies while the Pilgrims see the sailors as uncouth barbarians.
- Dawn of an Era: The Opening Scroll outright states that the film portrays the beginning of what will eventually be The United States. And in the scene with the signing of the Mayflower Compact, Gilbert Winslow's solemn narration lays out the significance of the moment:Whether they know it or not, they have laid hold of great principles hitherto unrevealed to the nations of the earth. They are about to establish just and equal laws adopted and administered by the people, a government based upon the will of the governed.
- Driven to Suicide: It's implied that Dorothy Bradford's extramarital affair with Captain Jones drove her to commit suicide out of guilt.
- The Film of the Book: The film was based on The Plymouth Adventure: A Chronicle Novel of the Voyage of the Mayflower by Ernest Gébler. This book was a massive bestseller when it was released in 1950, which is how it came to be adapted as a major motion picture starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney.
- Historical In-Joke: The film takes two things that were probably accidents and portrays them as deliberate:
- History records that it was an accident that the Mayflower ended up in New England instead of Virginia. In the film, the Virginia Company is portrayed giving Captain Jones secret orders to take the Pilgrims to New England, as a kind of backdoor to setting up a colony there.
- Dorothy Bradford really did die after falling overboard, but this was probably an accident. In the film, it's implied to be suicide, the result of a fictional affair she had been sorta having with Captain Jones. This scenario was not invented by the film itself, by the way, but by a Harper's Weekly story from 1869.
- I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: The sailors constantly harass the Pilgrim women, which Captain Jones dismisses by saying that's just how lusty sailors are going to behave when there are women onboard.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Captain Jones, as Dorothy points out:Dorothy: I've guessed your secret.
Jones: What secret?
Dorothy: That you have a heart, that there's goodness in you, and that you'd die rather than admit it.
- Love Triangle: Captain Jones falls in love with Dorothy Bradford, who is married to William Bradford.
- The Mutiny: Captain Jones has to fend off a mutiny when he decides to keep the Mayflower in the New World until the Pilgrims have gotten settled.
- New England Puritan: Specifically, the story of how they got to New England in the first place.note
- Paper Destruction of Anger: At the last minute, the Virginia Company changes its contract with the Pilgrims, allowing the Company to claim everything that the Pilgrims produce in the New World. When the Pilgrims refuse to sign this, the Virginia Company representative tears up the contract and declares that they're on their own now.
- Riding into the Sunset: The final shot of the film shows the Mayflower doing this, although it would have to be the sunrise, since it's going east.
- Stay in the Kitchen: Captain Jones doesn't think much of the Pilgrims bringing so many women and children along.
- Training the Peaceful Villagers: When Miles Standish attempts to teach the Pilgrims how to use firearms in case they encounter hostile natives in the new land.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Captain Jones and his crew embody the spirit of this era. The idealistic Pilgrims don't really fit with it, which is a running theme throughout the film.