Rebel, patriot, master of the sea, man on the run, Revolutionary war hero, there’s enough glory, excitement & dramatic incident in the life of John Paul Jones for a three-season HBO mini-series. Not that you’d guess by this stiff historical from burnt-out megger John Farrow which plays with all the verisimilitude, pulse & wit of a state-sponsored Sound-and-Light pageant. It’s enough to give waxworks a good name. Best not to name names (protect the innocent and all that), but mention must be made of Charles Coburn’s Ben Franklin who looks decidedly like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. We hit rock bottom at an interview between Jones & George Washington (set in a papier-mâché Valley Forge) that for some reason hides the General’s face from us with some of the more awkward staging ever seen on film. Farrow (or some second unit man) steps up his game in a couple of action set pieces in the second half, which are also helped by better color values in the clean, if variable print used for the Warner Archives VOD, but it’s hardly enough to make much difference. The film was the first epic made by independent producer Samuel Bronston in his new bespoke Spanish studios. He’d hit pay dirt soon enough with EL CID/’61.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Go online or try your old encyclopedia for a quick refresher course on JPJ. What an amazing amount of living in a mere 45 years. Lots more to the man than ‘I have not yet begun to fight!’
WATCH HIS, NOT THAT: Revolutionary War pics are notoriously unsuccessful. Why not try Disney’s simple, but effective JOHNNY TREMAIN/’57?