In 1787, British ship Bounty leaves Portsmouth to bring a cargo of bread-fruit from Tahiti but the savage on-board conditions imposed by Captain Bligh trigger a mutiny led by officer Fletcher Christian.
A cavalcade of English life from New Year's Eve 1899 until 1933 seen through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot. Amongst events touching their family are the Boer War,... See full summary »
Midshipman Roger Byam joins Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian aboard HMS Bounty for a voyage to Tahiti. Bligh proves to be a brutal tyrant and, after six pleasant months on Tahiti, Christian leads the crew to mutiny on the homeward voyage. Even though Byam takes no part in the mutiny, he must defend himself against charges that he supported Christian. Written by
Eric Sorensen <Eric_Sorensen@fc.mcps.k12.md.us>
At that most prestigious of all film studios, MGM, they produced the
greatest and grandest sea saga of them all. In 1935 it was considered
quite daring to have an over two hour film. But Mutiny on the Bounty
holds your interest through out.
All three leads Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone were
nominated for Best Actor that year and they managed to cancel each
other out. Victor McLaglen took home the statue for The Informer with
the fifth nominee being Paul Muni for Black Fury.
Clark Gable wisely did not attempt a British accent and yet there was
no criticism of his performance as Fletcher Christian. Christian was
first mate of the HMS Bounty and a man of conscience. It tears him up
inside to see the sadism and cruelty of Captain Bligh on this voyage.
The men aren't king and country volunteers as he tells the captain. But
the captain has his own ideas.
Normally Charles Laughton played a whole lot of twisted and/or tortured
souls for the screen. His Captain Bligh is a man with a deep
inferiority complex. The key to him is in the dinner scene on board the
Bounty. Watching him, you can see the envy and jealousy he has of the
confident and self assured Gable, the callow youth Franchot Tone
brimming with idealism and even the surgeon Dudley Digges who despite
his drunkeness and crudity is a professional man with some education.
It's so much like James Cagney's captain in Mister Roberts and worse
because at that time the British Navy gave him the authority of God on
The conflict between Gable and Laughton is obviously the main plot of
the film. Yet there is a subplot that's rarely talked about, the
conflict between Gable and Franchot Tone. Tone who was also American,
but was stage trained and could fit into a British setting easily,
plays Roger Byam one of the young midshipmen on board and who Gable
befriends. The key to his character is right at the beginning of the
film when he's being sent off to sea by Henry Stephenson playing Sir
Joseph Banks. Seven generations of Byam's family have been part of the
glorious naval tradition of Great Britain and none have failed in their
duty. That should be uppermost in your mind.
Gable and Tone have different ideas of duty and it tests their
friendship. Each chooses a different path, yet Tone ends up defending
Gable against Laughton. Franchot Tone's finest screen moment for me has
always been at his court martial where he makes a stirring speech in
defense of the rights of the ordinary British seaman.
As always though the mark of a really great film is the impact those
small character roles leave. The men on the Bounty include Donald
Crisp, Stanley Fields, Eddie Quillan, Herbert Mundin. My favorite
though is Dudley Digges as the ship's surgeon Mr. Bacchus. At the drop
of a shilling he'll tell you how he's lost his leg. Outrageous,
humorous, and a kindly man who softens the blows of Laughton's harsh
discipline, had there been the Supporting player categories then, Mr.
Digges would have been my choice for 1935 as Best Supporting Actor.
Even in black and white, made in the studio back lot, Mutiny on the
Bounty still holds up well today. Despite two subsequent versions of
the story, this version has stood the test of time.
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