|Directed by||John Farrow|
|Written by||Jonathan Latimer|
|Based on||novel by Charles Nordhoff|
James Norman Hall
|Produced by||Joseph Sistrom|
|Cinematography||John F. Seitz|
|Edited by||Alma Macrorie|
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|October 28, 1953|
|Box office||$1.9 million (US)|
Botany Bay is a 1953 American drama film directed by John Farrow and starring Alan Ladd, James Mason and Patricia Medina. It was based on a novel of the same name by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.
The story combines real life character (Gilbert and Phillips) and the true ship Charlotte with its one time role as a convict transport, with fictional persons as convicts.
In 1787 a group of prisoners lodged in Newgate Jail receive notice that their death sentences are commuted to life imprisonment in New South Wales. They are boarded onto the Charlotte and joined by a smaller group of female prisoners. Gilbert, the captain, offers one pretty female prisoner free run of the ship on certain conditions.
One prisoner, Tallant, admits guilt but is expecting a pardon to arrive within hours. The captain declines to wait for word of the pardon and Tallant jumps overboard. When caught he is sentenced to 50 lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails. Recovering below deck he offers £1000 to any person who agrees to help him. As Tallant has medical training he is offered a position as ship's surgeon, which also gives him free run of the ship.
Gilbert is cruel to prisoners and crew alike. A young boy in a small cell dies of hypothermia when the cell floods with cold water. He is buried at sea. His mother tries to stab the captain and he shoots her. Tallant and the second mate escape in a row boat but are found. They are sentenced to be keel hauled. The crew carries out the sentence but both prisoners survive. The captain is upset that they are living, so orders a second haul. Spencer dies on the second haul. Tallant survives. Rev. Thynne threatens to inform Governor Philip of the barbary when they arrive at Botany Bay.
The ship sails via South America (this would have been very unusual, the Africa route was the norm). Their first port of call is Rio de Janeiro. However, they later discuss being off the coast of Africa. The journey has taken 237 days.
Governor Phillip refuses to hang Tallant and sentences him to hard labour in the penal colony in Botany Bay, New South Wales. However Gilbert demands that Tallant be charged with mutiny. Despite the fact that the Mutiny Act 1703 only has provisions to punish members of the Royal Navy (which Tallant clearly is not, even were the Charlotte a Royal Navy ship) Governor Phillip raises no objection to this. Tallant escapes with a small group of men, and tracks down Gilbert at Stillwater Cove. He demands the Charlotte, but he and his men are surrounded by British troops and recaptured.
As a further twist the group is surrounded by aborigines. Gilbert is hit by a spear and killed before the British fire power pushes them back. As the prisoners now have muskets they take charge again. Rather than escape Tallant returns to Botany Bay.
- Alan Ladd as Hugh Tallant
- James Mason as Captain Thomas Gilbert
- Patricia Medina as Sally
- Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Governor Arthur Phillip
- Jonathan Harris as Tom Oakly
- Malcolm Lee Beggs as Nick Sabb
- Murray Matheson as Rev. Mortimer Thynne
- Anita Sharp-Bolster as Moll Cudlip (billed as Anita Bolster)
- Noel Drayton as first mate Spencer
- Ben Wright as deck officer Green
- Skelton Knaggs prisoner at Newgate
There was film interest in the book even before its publication because of the success of Mutiny on the Bounty, also from a novel by Nordhoff and Hall. The film rights were sold in July 1940 for a reported $50,000 and was intended to be a vehicle for Joel McCrea.
In 1941 Joel McCrea expressed interest in playing the lead. The film was originally planned to be made in 1946, starring Ray Milland with location shooting in Australia. However these plans were delayed when Paramount became concerned about the cost.
Four koalas and two kangaroos were flown from Australia to appear in the film. The koalas were the first to be exported from Australia in 25 years and were later transferred to San Diego Zoo.
The only Australian-born members of the cast were Murray Matheson and Brendan Toomey. Aboriginal characters were played by African-American actors. (Peter Pagan was reported as going to feature in the film but this did not seem to eventuate.)
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
- "Botany Bay". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
- "FILMS". The Argus. Melbourne. 27 March 1953. p. 16. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "NEWS OF THE SCREEN New York Times". July 26, 1940. p. 12.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (Nov 16, 1951). "JAMES MASON DEAL SET AT PARAMOUNT: Will Co-Star With Alan Ladd in 'Botany Bay' for Studio-- Farrow Directing Film Guarding Cowboy Actors Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 22.
- "JOEL McCREA IN BOTANY BAY?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 12 June 1941. p. 19. Retrieved 4 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Ray Milland to Make Film at Botany Bay". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 March 1946. p. 11 Supplement: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Hollywood Goes All Australian". The Argus. Melbourne. 11 September 1946. p. 13 Supplement: Woman's Magazine. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "FOX WILL REMAKE 'DADDY LONG-LEGS': Studio Plans Musical Version of Romantic Story Already Twice Filmed on Coast Of Local Origin". New York Times. June 27, 1951. p. 25.
- "Koalas To Go To U.S. For Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 January 1952. p. 1. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Kangaroos, Koalas Go To U.S." The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 January 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Our Koalas Draw Big Crowds To U.S. Zoo". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 January 1952. p. 1. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Early adventure in "Botany Bay"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 18 June 1952. p. 31. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- Schallert, Edwin (Dec 21, 1951). "Drama: 'Mr. Congressman' Cast Well Set Up; Martin Promotes Discoveries". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.