One of the first "Thanksgiving" films I think of is MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), which is more closely associated with Christmas but opens on Thanksgiving Day.
Another major Thanksgiving film is MGM's PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952), available in a remastered edition from the Warner Archive.
PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE is a straightforward telling of the Pilgrims traveling to the New World on the Mayflower. All the familiar names are there: William Bradford (Leo Genn), John Alden (Van Johnson), Priscilla Mullins (Dawn Addams), Miles Standish (Noel Drayton), William Brewster (Barry Jones) and more.
The story is told matter-of-factly, with the major dramatic arc being the romantic attraction of foul-tempered Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) and Bradford's emotionally fragile wife Dorothy (Gene Tierney), followed by Jones's conversion from being a first-class jerk to a more honorable man.
It's all quite watchable and looks great on the remastered DVD, yet the film is rather stolid and perhaps disappointing, lacking dramatic heft and excitement.
Adding to this is that the relationship between the Captain and Dorothy seems truncated; Tracy and Tierney have one excellent dramatic scene yet the passion seems to come out of nowhere. It doesn't help that for much of the film Tracy plays his character without any shadings, nor does the script provide an explanation for his character's behavior; he's just mean.
Van Johnson is sweet as eager young John Alden. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Johnson and Tierney, and less of Tracy and his crew member Lloyd Bridges, whose character is as mean as Tracy's.
One of the film's pleasures is the scoring by Miklos Rozsa, particularly the "going to sea" sequence. Rozsa seemed to have an affinity for these types of scenes as he also did a wonderful job the following year on the sailing film ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953).
I also enjoyed John Dehner as Gilbert Winslow, who is introduced at the outset as keeping a journal on the Pilgrims' voyage. This allows Dehner to narrate the film in his mellifluous voice.
The cast also includes Tommy Ivo, Noreen Corcoran, Rhys Williams, and Kathleen Lockhart.
PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE runs 105 minutes. It was directed by Clarence Brown and photographed in Technicolor by William Daniels. The movie won an Oscar for Best Special Effects.
As a side note, I welcome other suggestions for classic-era Thanksgiving viewing in the comments, and I'm sure my readers would enjoy hearing ideas as well.
The Warner Archive release of PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE includes the trailer.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.