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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. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
I recall catching this as a kid on local TV, a screening which, most probably, came about via the personal print of the film-buff sexton who calls over a number of friends, me included, from time to time to his private home theater in order to share in his vast movie collection on 16 and 35mm. Based on a book by the authors behind "Mutiny On The Bounty", this follows a very similar path with a ship's crew at the mercy of a martinet captain (James Mason basically returning to the kind of role which had made him a star in his homeland); his opposition is led by medical student(!) Alan Ladd (typically dour) who's actually one of the many prisoners bound for exile in far-away Australia, among whom is also leading lady Patricia Medina (predictably, over the course of the film, she also becomes a personal object of contention between the two male stars).
Despite such imposing credentials as scriptwriter Jonathan Latimer and director Farrow, the film perhaps fails to rise consistently above the routine not even with such unusual plot points as Mason's adoption of a banned form of punishment (keel-hauling); during the latter stages, then as the company sets ashore, and we also get to meet Governor Sir Cedric Hardwicke the film tends to lose the initial momentum of the ship-board brutality. Suffice it to say that the film I watched just prior to it, CARTOUCHE (1962; with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Claudia Cardinale) was over 20 minutes longer but seemed to me to have moved at a much quicker pace! Even so, BOTANY BAY remains a good example of the colorful entertainment they used to churn out in the old days, given an extra edge by Mason's compelling portrayal (which, if anything, suggests that he'd have made a marvelous Captain Bligh).
For the record, John Farrow directed Alan Ladd for the fifth and last time here after what looks like a run of mostly unassuming action potboilers: CHINA (1943), the equally seafaring TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST (1946), CALCUTTA (1947) and BEYOND GLORY (1948). It must be said here that, locally, Alan Ladd was a very popular film star with my father's generation and, apart from the immortal Western SHANE (1953), it's a pity that he seems to have been undeservedly forgotten with the passage of time.
P.S. Useless bit of trivia: I have just come across an allegedly uncut copy of the controversial WAKE IN FRIGHT aka OUTBACK (1971; with Donald Pleasence) taken from an Australian TV screening and, as the credits rolled, an announcer informs the audience to tune in at the same time tomorrow for a screening of BOTANY BAY!!
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