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Midshipman Roger Byam joins Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian aboard the 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>
Few stories have stirred the imagination as much as the infamous mutiny aboard the HMS Bounty, in 1789, and this movie captures the spirit of that historic event very well.
Clark Gable stars without his trademark mustache (and British accent) as Fletcher Christian, the officer in charge of the mutiny. Fortunately, his performance as Christian was strong enough so that the average viewer would overlook that particular flaw (unlike Kevin Costner's turn as Robin Hood in 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves").
Franchot Tone's portrayal of Midshipman Roger Byam was sympathetic, as he appeared to be more of a witness to the events than a participant. Byam's plea for reforms in the British Navy at the end of his court martial put a cap on a memorable performance. It should be noted that one of the factors in creating the Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories at the Oscars undoubtedly came about as a direct result of this movie, with three men nominated for Best Actor. If Best Supporting Actor had existed, Tone would have been up for (and likely received) Best Supporting Actor.
And then there's Charles Laughton. As Captain Bligh, Laughton made the most of his scenery-chewing role. Fortunately for him, the open-boat sequence added depth to his character, avoiding the cliché of Bligh being a cruel and inhuman sea captain. Unfortunately for him, his likeness graced cartoons and magazines for decades as a depiction of controlling and maniacal leaders.
While watching this movie, I began to notice a few plot points that Herman Wouk must have used for his novel "The Caine Mutiny". For example, Byam sees a tall ship and asks if it's the Bounty, but the Bounty is a smaller ship behind it; likewise, Ensign Keith spots a proud new vessel and asks if it's the Caine, but the Caine sits beyond, a small minesweeper full of rust. Captain Bligh obsesses over two wheels of missing cheese; Captain Queeg turns his ship upside-down over a few pounds of strawberries. And both Bligh and Queeg believe the whole crew of their respective ships are against them, even going so far as to conjecture a conspiracy theory based upon half-heard (and innocent) conversations. By the way, I am not trying to discredit "The Caine Mutiny" in any way; both the novel and the 1954 movie (starring Humphrey Bogart) are classics in their own right, and I recommend both reading the book and seeing the movie.
"Mutiny On the Bounty" is a well-made movie, with one of the best musical scores I have heard. When I heard the violins sweeping into the theme music at the opening titles, I knew right away I was in for a good time. Strong performances, great camera work, a well-written script, and an astounding musical score. All in all, this is a movie worth seeing!
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