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John Paul Jones Film Summary

 
 1959 Robert Stack Movie Plot (Continued)

Signed film still of Robert Stack as John Paul JOnes meeting Catherine the Great (Bette Davis) in 1959 film /SeacoastNH.com Collection

The Bonhomme Richard

Jones is honored by the French, but the American maritime committee will not pay for his crew or repairs. Simpson files charges and the Ranger is withdrawn to America. Jones gives up his ship and his command and remains in France with Franklin. He woos on. Aimee admits to being fathered out of wedlock, Jones admits to her his assumed name.

Jones is landlocked in France and regrets that he has been unable to build an American Navy that is above politics and privateering. His closest crewmen have abandoned Simpson to stay with him. Jones and Franklin finally get an audience with the King of France who regrets he cannot provide a ship for Jones. Franklin convinces the Queen to privately invest in Jones who names his purchased Dutch ship the Bon Homme Richard after Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac." Outfitted with French money and flying the American flag, Jones sets off with the 28-gun frigate. With reject guns and a crew made partially of the "reject scum of the port," they're off to worry the British. His two accompanying privateering ships are not required to follow his command.

Off Flambeau Head the Bonhomme fights a fierce sea battle with HMS Serapis. The attack is surprisingly accurate and even stirring as the two ships are grappled together and fire on each other at point blank range. Although his ship is sinking, Jones announces that he has not yet begun to fight, even when his companion ship the Alliance begins to fire on him and then retreats. But the British surrender just in time for the American crew to transfer to the captured vessel and the Bonhomme is lost. With 87 British, and 77 Bonhomme Richard crewmen killed, Jones asks the defeated British captain to read the funeral prayers with him.

Jones is again rewarded by King Louis, this time with the high rank of "chevalier.". He seems, however, more concerned with the whereabouts of Aimee. But Franklin informs him that Aimee is of the blood royale, and cannot marry a commoner like him.

The Final Days

With a temporary peace at hand, Jones is called back to America by the Congress to appear before the Marine Commission. Jones proposes the creation of a naval fleet with highly trained men, but his idea is beyond the budget of the new country. (Jones dies before Old Ironsides is built to attack the Barbary Pirates as he has suggested.)

Jones then takes his final assignment as a rear admiral in the navy of Russia's Catherine the Great. After waiting 32 days for an audience with the empress, Jones is ushered in to the sumptuous chamber to meet her (played by Bette Davis). She tries to seduce him to stay among the pleasures of the Russian court, but Jones is all duty and wants to get right to his ship. Catherine likes his bravado, and he's off to war.

Franklin is in France talking to Aimee. Despite constant interference and poor ships, he reports, Jones has won great battles in the Black Sea for the czarina. The bad news, Franklin says, is that Jones is critically ill. Jones lies helpless in the back of an array of carriages as he returns from Russia to France.

In the final scene in Paris, Jones is attended by Franklin and Aimee. With patriotic music, Jones dictates the famous "code" for officers in the US Navy. This never happened, but the code is a collection of ideas, many of which appeared over time in letters by Jones. The death scene dissolves to images of the modern Navy as Jones' fading voice suddenly strengthens for a fully patriotic ending. The narrator reminds us that the spirit of John Paul Jones lives on in the modern US Navy.

Jones final film movie words are:

"The keel timber of this new navy must be in the selection of the list of officers. It is by no means enough an officer be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course. But he must also be a great deal more. He must, as well, be a gentleman of liberal education, with a fine manner, punctilious courtesy and the nicest sense of personal honor. He should be the soul of tact, patience , firmness, justice and charity. As he should be universal in his rewards, so should he be judicial in reproof. When a commander has properly exercised these qualities, he has only to await the appearance of the enemy. His ship and his men will be ready."

Film summary by J. Dennis Robinson
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Movie stills from Columbia Pictures.

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