Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

30 Apr

Synopsis: Based on a factual event, the HMS Bounty left England’s shores in 1787 to set sail for Tahiti. Its mission was to travel to the island, to gather seedlings of the breadfruit tree, transport them to the West Indies, then return to Britain’s shores. Charles Laughton plays the arrogant, self-riotous and maniacal Captain William Bligh,  Clark Gable plays Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, the second in command.

Awards: 1935, Best Picture Academy Award.

Review: Bounty was directed by Frank Lloyd with the film playing on the strengths of the two lead actors. The film was a runaway success in its day and has plenty to offer to modern day movie audiences.  Interestingly enough this  film unlike say Pirates of the Caribbean relies more on coherent story telling than blowing something up to keep things moving.

Charles Laughton plays Bligh so thoroughly contemptible with an underlying insidiousness that he justifies by quoting the Naval Regulations of Admiralty.  He believes by instilling fear in his subordinates they will obey his every command without question.  On the year-long trip to Tahiti he has a man whipped 300 times even long after he the man has died, he cuts back food rations over a perceived piece of stolen cheese, and keelhauls a man to his death. Bligh does all this with a sense of duty that lacks perspective and humanity leaving a lasting disdainful impression on his crew.

Clark Gable play Fletcher Christian as evolving young officer who deep down is the complete antithesis of Bligh. Christian constantly wrestles with the orders Bligh throws at him and shows little restraint in words and deed as his underlying contempt for Bligh rises to the surface.

Once the Bounty has reached Tahiti the crew is sent ashore to find the Breadfruit saplings. Off the ship the Tahitian world is calm and peaceful as the natives welcome them with open arms. The crew including Christian meet the local women and many relationships begin to form. This is paradise for the crew as the hellish Bligh leaves them alone in order to accomplish his mission there.

When the Bounty finally gets underway the Bligh wastes no time in starting his ruthless punishments again. When the Breadfruit trees need more water than first expected he orders only one drink a day for the crew and puts the water ladle up on the highest rafter forcing the already water deprived men to climb up to the top to get the ladle, get the drink and then return it to the top again. This was the beginning of the mutiny as Christian finally leads the sailors to take over the ship. Bligh swears revenge after he put in a long boat with a few men who want to go back to England and set adrift. There is also a love story between Christian and an Island native whom he goes back for after the mutiny. 

This is a classic film and does stand-up today as an early blockbuster.  In 1962 a remake was made with Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian. More on the remake in another review.

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