Friday, September 9, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Viewers may be tempted to walk the plank early on watching Mutiny on the Bounty.

Clark Gable, as Fletcher Christian, works too hard trying to be the nice guy on the British Royal Navy ship, HMS Bounty.

The idealism of Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is too much to bear.

But Capt. Bligh (Charles Laughton) anchors this 1935 effort from director Frank Lloyd (Blood on the Sun) right from the get-go.

"You do your duty and we may get along," Bligh advises his crew early in the voyage.
"But whatever happens, you'll do your duty."

Granted, it helps early on the cruel Bligh still wants a man to be whipped for striking an officer even though he's dead. Now, that's sending a message.

The film, winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1936, is based on the true story of a mutiny on the British ship in April 1789.

Bottom line, Bligh was an extremely talented seaman, but also an especially cruel leader who routinely had his men beaten for small infractions. For sailors on a two-year voyage from England to Tahiti, this doesn't sit well, especially with those forced into service by press gangs.

Christian, as first lieutenant, urges Bligh to ease up on the harsh physical treatment of his crew and give him time to ease in the new crew members.

"He doesn't punish for discipline," Christian says.
"He likes to see men crawl."

Caught in-between these two men is Byam. His background is with the aristocracy, but he also becomes good friends with Christian.

The first lieutenant finally reaches a breaking point with Bligh's behaviour and takes over the ship. The captain, and his loyalists, are set adrift. The HMS Bounty heads back to Tahiti where the locals are friendly, the food plentiful and the atmosphere much more relaxed.

Fearing cannibals on nearby islands, Bligh charts a course for the Dutch East Indies. That's 3,500 miles in a rowboat with little food and water. How those seamen managed to make their journey is almost as riveting a story as the mutiny itself.

Gable, who doesn't even try a British accent, is riveting during his explosions of fury against Bligh. He even clenches his fists at one point. Great stuff.

Tone's character, so filled with gosh-golly enthusiasm at the start, ends the film with a great speech in court.

Laughton is strong throughout this 132-minute drama. He is driven to succeed. He is driven to find Christian after the mutiny, even if he loses his own ship.

Two more film versions of Mutiny on the Bounty followed. Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard headed up a 1962 effort. The Bounty, released in 1982, starred Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins with support from Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: About 50 people now live on Pitcairn Island. Web surfers can sign up for a monthly newsletter at http:/ The island is about 1,400 miles southeast of Tahiti.

Three neat facts from Internet Movie Database:

1. Movita, who appeared as love interest Tehani, is the last living survivor of the film's cast. She turns 94 on Dec. 4, 2011. Tehani appeared in 14 episodes of Knots Landing!
Mutiny on the Bounty extras included David Niven and James Cagney.

2. Director of editing, Margaret Booth, is the oldest Academy Award nominee to die. She was 104 when she died in 2002. She also worked on Ben-Hur

3. Mutiny on the Bounty is the only film with three actors (Laughton, Gable, Tone) nominated for best actor.

Tone appeared in The Twilight Zone episode, The Silence, in 1961.

A BEEF: Why do Warner Brothers go out of their way to make Mutiny on the Bounty appear to be a color film? Stills on the back cover of the DVD are in colour. This viewer is fine with black and white films. Yes, there's a small note at the bottom noting it's a black and white release. Is Warner Brothers afraid viewers won't buy or rent this film if it's not in colour. Embrace black and white releases, movie-goers!

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