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John Paul Jones Film Summary

 1959 Robert Stack Movie Plot 

Imaginary scene of John Paul Jones meeting with George Washington at Valley FOrge from the 1959 film, signed by RObert Stack from the collection Complete Film Summary
Columbia Pictures

The film opens to "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as a 1959 Navy crew is being lectured aboard a US battleship. John Paul Jones is presented as an example to this Cold War crew as the first man to sail the American flag into foreign waters. "It was he, more than anyone else, who set the pattern of everything about us," the officer tells his men.

Flashback to 1759 in Scotland where young John Paul, "not favored by birth or circumstance" is showing a healthy disrespect for British soldiers, as they harass his fellow Scotsmen for wearing kilts. The red-haired boy, son of a gardener, goes to sea at age 14. Signed on as ship's boy, young John learns every aspect of sailing. His service aboard slave ships is quickly glossed over with no visuals.

Three years before the Declaration of Independence, John Paul is prospering as a ship owner in the West Indies. Robert Stack, as young Capt. Paul kills a mutinous crewman in self-defense and is forced to go ashore in Tobago to report the incident. In the film, he is advised by the British magistrate to flee to America rather than wait a year or two in jail for an Admiralty Court.

"Get away from here, young man, as fast as you can, and change your name before you go - Smith, Brown, Jones," the magistrate demands.

Incognito as John Paul Jones, the captain arrives in Fredericksburg, Virginia to learn that his wealthy brother William has recently died. Jones inherits the family farm. Patrick Henry (Macdonald Carey) appears in the doorway and is hired as JPJ's lawyer. Henry invites Jones to a party that same night. Demonstrating his newfound American patriotism, JPJ cold-cocks a British officer who badmouths the honor of local American women. A starry-eyed Dorothea Dandridge (Erin O'Brien) falls for the poet-buccaneer.

Jones "swallows the anchor" and attempts farming and pitches woo with Dorothea. But the land is not kind to the captain. The farm paperwork is overwhelming and Dorothea's well-connected father turns down JPJ's proposal to marry her. The Revolution is suddenly underway, and in a cruel twist, Patrick Henry instead wins Dorothea's hand.

Fighting for America

Grudgingly, JPJ accepts a commission as second in command of the ship Alfred. In a patriotic moment, The persuasive Jones gets to raise the first American flag. Jones shows himself a capable mariner and military strategist. Without a shot fired, the marines aboard the Alfred take their first British fort in the West Indies and steal badly needed gunpowder for the American cause.

Back home, the Declaration of Independence is read, while JPJ gets his first independent command aboard the twelve-gun ship Providence. Mr. Bean arrives from Virgina with bad news. The Tories have burned the family farm, and worse, Dorothea is definitely going to marry Patrick Henry. Jones heads off to fight with a vengeance.

Never losing a fight, Jones plunders, sinks or seizes 18 "enemy" vessels with his tiny ship, sending home blankets, uniforms, munitions, medical supplies that would have gone to British Gen. Burgoyne's army. Despite all the prizes won, the Continental Congress places JPJ at the bottom of their list of maritime commanders.

Jones is enraged and meets with John Hancock who says his hands are tied. Jones shouts, "Eighteenth below bunglers and cowards and captains who have never been to sea! Rather than a shipless captain begging to Congress, I'd rather shoulder a musket!"

Jones heads instantly to Valley Forge where Gen. George Washington (Jack Crawford) is dictating a despondent letter. The colonies are losing the war to frostbite and hunger. Jones is moved by Washington and agrees to return to any ship in any capacity.. A ship is needed, Washington says, to break the British blockade and get news to Ben Franklin in France that reinforcements are needed.

"Do you know of the ship Ranger, now at Portsmouth?" Washington asks. "Aye, sir. Out of commission. No sails, no rigging and without a crew?Jones replies. "If I can steal the Ranger, could you refit, steal a crew, and make ready for the welcome news that I am sure will be ours?" the general asks. "With the help of Providence and the inspiration of my commander in chief, yes sir!"JPJ announces.

Despite the moving scene, there is no evidence that JPJ met with Washington at Valley Forge. Jones does not board the Ranger and head to England for almost a year (November 1777).

Without a glimpse of Portsmouth, the Ranger is quickly at sea and, arriving off the fort at Brest in France where she receives the first salute given to the flag of the United States.

Jones pushes his way in to see Doctor Franklin (Charles Coburn) with his dispatches from 3,000 miles away. Franklin introduces Jones to his new love interest Aimee de Tellison (Marisa Pavan and) asks his "fire-eating friend" to wait for a better ship. Jones woos Aimee who says he may be a fool for attempting to invade the British Isles with a tiny ship. Jones explains his plan for distracting the entire British Navy while he plays will-o-the-wisp. After his raids, insurance rates will skyrocket, he tells her. Popular opinion will shift. She is impressed. They kiss.

Aboard the Ranger again, Jones explains his plan to attack the port of Whitehaven. Just to get a landing party ashore, he must again battle his own crew and particular Mr. Simpson of New Hampshire. Pistols drawn, the landing party sneaks into the British fort and, without bloodshed manages to steal ammunition, burn boats and damage the fort cannons. The locals refuse to put up a fight, and Jones gallantly marches through town and back to the Ranger.


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