Botany Bay In 1787 prisoners from London’s Newgate Gaol are to be shipped to New South Wales. Hugh Tallant is an American medical student whom, we learn at sea, was falsely imprisoned. Because of his attempt to escape, evil Captain Gilbert decides to return him to England on charges of mutiny. Events, including arrival of plague, keep Tallant busy in New South Wales.
We are bound for Botany Bay
Botany Bay In the late 18th and early 19th century Great Britain used to get rid of her low lifes and petty felons by transporting them off to Botany Bay (Australia) in prison ships.A motley bunch who undoubtedly needed a firm hand and strong discipline.In James Mason’s captain they certainly got that.On the surface he has a degree of charm and compassion but underneath he is a sadistic psychopath with possible suppressed gay feelings,this 1952 Hollywood could only hint at such things.By comparison he makes Captain Bligh seem like a lovable old softie.James Mason gives an absolutely brilliant performance.He was excellent in these sort of roles.
It doesn’t take long for him and the hero played by Alan Ladd to fall out.Ladd who has suffered a miscarriage of justice has a large chip on his shoulder.Also on board is a young female convict played by the lovely Patricia Medina whose cleavage must have given the censors a few headaches and a good eyeful.She is also big trouble.Mason certainly has it in for Ladd sentencing him to fifty lashes then threatening to keelhaul him.When told that nobody has been keelhauled for fifty years Mason in his best sneering voice says “I don’t think its been quite that long”.Ladd much to Mason’s annoyance survives.
John Farrow,the director,doesn’t pull his punches depicting the horror,unpleasantness and cruelty suffered by the convicts.It may have seemed necessary at the time but to modern sensibilities it was not Britain’s finest hour,it is the most realistic part of the film.Of course this was an American film financed by American money so lets have a little dig at Britain’s colonial past.I’m surprised that the anti British Mel Gibson hasn’t remade it.
Be that as it may when they land Australia looks like the Paramount back lot.The good news is that Mason gets his comeuppance thanks to a well directed Aborigine spear.Then HOORAY Alan Ladd’s pardon arrives and the benevolent governor allows Patricia Medina to become his bride (no doubt their descendants delight in thrashing England at cricket)
Not a classic but a fine salty saga all in glorious Technicolor.
Ladd is excellent in this type of role.Apart perhaps from “Shane” he is undeservedly a forgotten name now.
This must be one of the few Australian based films made in the fifties that didn’t feature that wonderful character actor Chips Rafferty.