Two Years Before the Mast (film)

Two Years Before the Mast
Directed by John Farrow
Produced by Seton I. Miller
Written by Seton I. Miller
George Bruce
Based on book by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
Starring Alan Ladd
William Bendix
Music by Victor Young
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • November 22, 1946 (1946-11-22)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]
Box office $4.4 million (US/ Canada rentals) [2][3]
1,270,487 admissions (France)[4]

Two Years Before the Mast is a 1946 adventure film based on Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s travel book of the same name.

Plot summary

Brian Donlevy, Esther Fernández and Alan Ladd in a promotional picture of the film.

In 1834, Charles Stewart (Alan Ladd), the spoiled, dissolute son of a shipping magnate, is shanghaied aboard the Pilgrim, one of his father's own ships. He embarks upon a long, hellish sea voyage under the tyrannical rule of Captain Francis Thompson (Howard Da Silva), assisted by his first mate, Amazeen (William Bendix). One of his crewmates is Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Brian Donlevy), who will ultimately recount the entire voyage on paper as a book.




In 1936, Republic Studios announced plans to make a version of the film starring James Dunn and produced by Bert Clark.[5][6] Actor Lew Ayres was mentioned as a possible director[7] and Lionel Barrymore, or, if he refused, Walter Connolly was going to star.[8] The movie was meant to be an attempt by Republic to move into bigger budgeted productions.[9] Negotiations with Barrymore, Connolly and Fredric March fell through and the studio tried to sign Herbert Wilcoxon.[10]

Republic never made the movie. Edward Small announced plans to film the book in 1939 under his deal with United Artists.[11] However this was postponed when World War Two was declared, as Small was reluctant to make such an expensive film in an uncertain marketplace.[12] Plans to film the novel were again announced in 1940 and 1941 but no movie resulted.[13]

Paramount eventually bought the rights off Small in 1943, including a script Seton I Miller had written for the producer in 1939; Miller had since become a writer and producer at Paramount. Alan Ladd was announced as star.[14]


In March 1944 it was announced Ladd would be re-inducted into the army but that this would be delayed so he could make Mast.[15]

Brian Donlevy was originally going to play the sadistic captain but was given the role of Dana instead. Howard da Silva, who had just achieved fame playing Judd in Oklahoma! on Broadway, played the captain.[16]

Mexican film star Esther Fernandez had been signed to Paramount for two years without making a film. John Farrow watched some test footage she made and was impressed; she was brought back to play the female lead.[17]

Due to war time restrictions - notably lack of transport - Paramount had endured many logistical difficulties filming the pirate movie Frenchman's Creek on location. This prompted them to decide to shoot Two Years Before the Mast entirely within the confines of the studio. Seascapes and soundscapes from Paramount's Souls at Sea (1937) were re-used.[18]

The film heavily dramatised the novel but attempted to be faithful. "Dana's tale is so well known that we shall have to stay close to the line of his yarn," said John Farrow, "Especially in the characters."[19] Extensive research was done on the project for six months prior to shooting.[19]


Filming began in May 1944 and took 69 days.[19] "We could do it in less but we've got to allow stubble to grow," said Farrow. "Chins have got to grow over with gray plush. May cost a hundred thousand. Depends on how long it takes those chins to sprout. But meantime, we can be shooting storms and Miss Fernandez."[19]

Alan Ladd injured his back during filming and had to miss a week of shooting.[20]

The movie was shot on three studio sound stages. Four stage were combined into one, for the interiors. There was another stage holding the water tank. Two models of the ship were built at a total cost of $150,000.[21]

Paramount were so pleased with Da Silva's performance they signed him to a seven year contract.[22] Darryl Hickman, who played the cabin boy, also impressed and was signed to a long term contact.[23]


The film was not released until late 1946, after the release of several films Ladd made subsequent to Mast: Salty O'Rourke, The Blue Dahlia and O.S.S.. This also meant that Barry Fitzgerald, who became a star in Going My Way (1944) while the film was waiting for release, was upped to above the title billing.

Box Office

The film was one of the most popular movies released in the US that year, Los Angeles Times describing it as "a phenomenal hit".[24] Variety listed it as the tenth most popular movie of 1946.[3]


  1. "'Two Years Before Mast' Personnel Assembling: Peter Lawford Chosen as Greer Garson Suitor; Noted Veterans on Active List" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 14 Feb 1944: 11.
  2. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  3. 1 2 "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  4. French box office of 1947 at Box Office Story
  5. James Dunn Going to Sea in Classic Story, "Two Years Before the Mast": Other Players Cast in Important Roles Ernst Lubitsch Begins Organization of His Film Unit; Virginia Bruce to Appear in "Born to Dance; Young Going Abroad Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 03 June 1936: A19.
  6. PARAMOUNT PLANS 40 FEATURE FILMS: Scheduled for Production in Six Months Beginning Next August. MAY RISE TO 80 IN YEAR Republic Announces Titles of Fifty Pictures to Be Made During Coming Season. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 05 June 1936: 16.
  7. Lew Ayres Will Act in His Second Paramount Film, "Murder With Pictures": Player Also Will Direct Dana Classic Doris Nolan to Play "Flying Hostess;" Youngster Cast Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 26 June 1936: 15.
  8. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Bette Davis Makes a Choice But the Warners Frown -- Republic Expands Its Production Program. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Aug 1936: 11
  9. EXTRA TROUBLE IN THE HOLLYWOOD PARADISE By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILLHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 Aug 1936: X3.
  10. SCREEN NEWS Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 14 Sep 1936: 25.
  11. "Marshall Will Play in 'My Son, My Son': Europe Lures Notables Students Belittle Stars Tommy Kelly Assigned Ann Sheridan's New Role" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 28 Mar 1939: 15.
  12. "PRODUCERS GIRD FOR WAR: The Cinema Capital Contemplates Its Probable Effects Upon the Industry" By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL. New York Times (1923-Current file) 10 Sep 1939: X3.
  13. "Of Local Origin" New York Times (1923-Current file) 01 Apr 1941: 29.
  14. "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount to Film 'Two Years Before Mast' -- 2 Broadway Openings This Week" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) 06 Dec 1943: 21.
  15. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount Plans a Remake of 'The Virginian' -- Two New Films Open Here Today Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 Mar 1944: 11.
  16. Astaire, Kelly Will Vie in 'Ziegfeld' Number: Margaret Lindsay Returning for Duty in Monogram's 'Trail of the Yukon' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Apr 1944: A10.
  17. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Esther Fernandez, Mexican Star, Gets Romantic Lead -- German War Films Here Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Apr 1944: 24
  18. A BELATED TRIBUTE TO G.I. JOE: Hollywood Discovers the Infantry in Filming 'Here Is Your War' -- Seafaring on the Back Lot Is the New Order By FRED STANLEYHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Mar 1944: X3.
  19. 1 2 3 4 'ROUND THE HORN ON A HOLLYWOOD SET: Synthetic Seas and Painted Cities Frame a Saga Of Sailing Days By IDWAL JONESHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 July 1944: X3.
  20. "ACTORS ATTEND SCHOOL OF SEAMANSHIP.". The Advocate. Burnie, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 22 October 1948. p. 10. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  21. Ships, Sea Improvised in Dana Film Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 June 1944: C1.
  22. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Sol Lesser to Make Film on the Air Service Command -- 'Days of Glory' at Palace Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 16 June 1944: 14.
  23. Gloria lean to Wax Dramatic in Thriller: Ann Todd to Double for Star Russell; Studio Prologues 'Roughly Speaking' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 Sep 1944: 9.
  24. Bing Will Harmonize With Andrews Sisters Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Dec 1946: A2
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 3/28/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.