20 May 2017 | robertguttman
A fair movie about the mistreatment of seamen but NOT 'Two Years Before the Mast"
This is a pretty fair movie about the mistreatment of seamen during the early 19th Century. However, it bears almost no resemblance to "Two Years Before the Mast". For a start, the credits say that the film is "based upon the novel by Richard Henry Dana". That, alone, is a pretty clear indication that nobody involved in the production of the movie had ever read the book because it was definitely NOT a novel. Dana was a college student at Harvard who took a sabbatical to ship out on a vessel belonging to the father of a friend of his in order to regain his health. The book was an account of his experiences, and it was NOT a work of fiction. There was no mutiny nor was anybody on board murdered. As a matter of fact, Dana did not even return on the ship started out on but on another ship that was homeward-bound, because the ship he sailed over on remained in California. Dana returned to Harvard, where he completed his studies and became a lawyer. During the course of his career he not only became an outspoken advocate not only for the rights of seamen, but for freedmen and fugitive slaves as well.
For the benefit of those who may wonder about the peculiar title, the term "before the mast" is an old term used on merchant ships to denotes sailing as a member of the crew, rather than as an officer or a passenger. The officers and passengers lived aft, in cabins. The crew lived up forward , not in cabins but in a single compartment that was originally called the "fore castle", but which was generally shortened to "focs'l". The "focs'l" was located at the forward end of the ship, forward of the masts, so that to sail "before the mast" was to be a seaman. Incidentally, although modern seamen live in individual staterooms, to this day many still refer to their stateroom as their "focs'l". Of course, none of the above applied to Navy ships, in which the officers lived in a "wardroom" and where there was no such thing as a "focs'l".
As a swashbuckling adventure movie "Two Years Before the Mast" compares favorably with others of that genre. However, those interested in the contents of Dana's book would be recommended not to take anything from this movie as representative of it.