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Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

  • Review: *** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Dudley Diggs, Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, Francis Lister, Spring Byington, Movita
  • Director: Frank Lloyd
  • Screenplay: Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson (Novel: Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall)
  • Length: 132 min.
  • MPAA Rating: Approved (PCA #1531)

A cruel, heartless captain, blind to his own callousness, bringsabout his own demise in the classic nautical drama Mutiny on the Bounty.

The case of the HMS Bounty brought a significant change inmaritime law regarding the treatment of the crew aboard all British vessels. CaptainWilliam Blight (Charles Laughton) would deny rations, whip ill-behaved men and otherwisefoment ill will with the crew of his vessel on its laborious journey to Tahiti. His first mate, a passionate and conscientiousman, Lt. Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) objected to Bligh’s barbarity but didnothing until he felt he could no longer object.

Camaraderie often blossoms between men on long sea voyagesand that’s what occurs between Christian and Midshipman Roger Byam. They sufferthrough the captain’s malicious orders, at times becoming targets themselves. Whenthey arrive on the paradisiacal isle of Tahiti,they find women with whom they could spend the rest of their lives.

After days of preparing and loading the ship with theprecious cargo of breadfruit plants for which they were sent, Captain Blighfirmly orders the crew to embark on their journey home, despite many havingfound a peaceful existence. Not long after returning to the ocean, Bligh’s oldways surface and the crew has finally had enough. Inciting the crew to mutiny,Christian puts Bligh and his only supporters into dinghies and sets them adrifton the ocean. They head back to Tahiti hopingthat the small boat will be the end of the ambitious captain. A happy endingthey would not receive as Bligh manages to make it back to civilization andcomes after his mutinous crew with a vengeance not to be easily abated.

Laughton puts in one of his finest performances as thevillainous captain. His haughty carriage never falters even when set adrift andwith survival against odds. Laughton’s talent gives you moments when you mightalmost pity him. He was brought up to treat his inferiors that way and that isobvious from his actions. He doesn’t know any other way but his inability, orpossibly refusal, to change is what sets him apart from the film’s protagonist.

Despite knowing the proper protocol but being motivated bythe needs of the crew, Fletcher Christian is a sympathetic and passionatecharacter. Clark Gable gives the character a rough edge, a characteristic ofhis performances. We know his limitations yet he works hard to push his ownheroic nature aside. The story helps that.

It’s not until after he’s forced to leave his beautiful wife(Spring Byington) that Christian finally decides to lash out against Bligh. Wealready know he has a sensitive side from his calming discussions and actionsprior to the scenes in Tahiti but as any otherman, his arrogance and selfishness finally surface after they depart.

Only Byam remains the pinnacle of selflessness. He neverwants to leave Christian’s side even though he’d be giving up a great deal bydoing so. Tone’s ability to convey pride and resoluteness help you understand hischaracter as the real hero of the story. Even when faced with certain death forbetraying his captain, Byam remains steadfast and holds his ground. He neverbetrays himself or his principles.

Mutiny on the Bounty does a great job portraying a dark time in British naval history. Throughoutthe voyage we learn a great deal about human behavior and the lengths men willgo to protect themselves. What kind of men would act as Bligh did? They areinsecure and incapable of understand what it’s like to be deemed inferior. It’sa recurring theme of history. Rebellion against those that keep us fromachieving our full potential is a part of life. We can learn a great deal fromwhat the men on the Bounty did. If we allow others to do harm to us or to ourway of life, we must save ourselves. We must declare mutiny against ouroppressors and fight to right the injustices they inflict upon us.

The 1935 film version of Mutinyon the Bounty which also won the award for Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stillresonates today. Those in power often abuse, even if surreptitiously, those whoare beneath them. The film serves as a reminder that only through courage, actionand perseverance can revolution achieve its goals.