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Clark Gable and Franchot Tone received Oscar nominations in this excellent early Best Picture winner. But it is Charles Laughton (also Oscar-nominated) who gives his greatest performance as the captain who is harsh, strict and unforgiving. However, his true skills are shown when he is thrown off the ship, but never gives up and returns to safety in a small boat with limited men and supplies. The primary actors are solid and the shooting locales are breath-taking. Frank Lloyd's direction lifts a somewhat questionable screenplay to safer waters and the film turns into a Hollywood classic by its final act. 5 stars out of 5.
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 that ship.
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.
Although the versions with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, and with
Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, are fairer in presenting William Bligh
than the 1935 version did, it is the 1935 version that remains the best
American version of the story of Bligh, Christian, and the "Bounty". It
is the most literary version (based on the novels of Nordhoff and Hall
- there are actually three novels), and it did give Charles Laughton
his most famous ogre (which he repeated later as Captain William Kidd
twice), but somehow the story was properly told in this version.
Somehow making a case for Bligh weakens the story of men rebelling when
they can't stand anymore.
If one wants to see the story from Bligh's side, read his very readable account THE MUTINY ABOARD H.M.S. BOUNTY, but keep in mind that it is his account of his side of the story. Christian never did get a chance to produce his side of it. Peter Heyward, the real life version of Byams (Franchot Tone) had the family connections and money to publish his anti-Bligh account, but Bligh's book became a best seller.
Historically most people feel that Bligh was more bark than bite. Unfortunately for his reputation he would be involved (in later years) in two other mutinies: that of the entire British fleet (the "Great Mutiny of 1797), where his ship "H.M.S. Director" was the last ship to take down it's flag of mutiny); and the New South Wales mutiny of 1805, where he was the Governor of the colony and his measures led to a mutiny of the local New South Wales Corp. But the Great Mutiny was actually caused by government corruption and neglect of it's seamen. As for the 1805 mutiny, Bligh was trying to control the New South Wales Corps which was not only corrupt but bullying the civilians. In the end his reports led to the recall of the corp. to fight against Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula. But Nordhoff and Hall presented Bligh as the villain there too.
The film also has more to it than the ranting of Bligh at "MR. Christian!" There are moments of comedy. Laughton's temper and anger are punctured a few times when the new cook (Herbert Mundin) keeps bungling things. When Laughton is angrily confronting a dissatisfied sailor, he happens to be staring directly at the sailor and Mundin. He orders the sailor to step forward, but Mundin does, causing Laughton to sputter. Also Mundin manages to toss garbage over the side so that it ends up hitting Laughton in the face. One wishes there had been more than this, or (better than that) an attempt to bring the two actors together in a comedy. Add to this Mr. Bacchus (Dudley Digges) whose leg (depending on when he is talking about it) was lost in a sea battle with the French, by a shark (who six months later turned up dead, with the leg still inside him), and shot off by a pirate off Madagascar (or something like that). His death in the film is a signal for the collapse of the one spot of humanity linking Christian's faction with Bligh's.
It is now generally accepted that Bligh was one of the greatest navigators in history, and the open boat voyage after being thrown off the Bounty remains an incredible achievement (he lost only two men). The film's best moments for Laughton is in this section, as he suddenly becomes far more wiser and humane trying to keep his crew healthy and able to continue to sail to safety. But when in charge of a full ship Bligh could not, or would not control his temper and his tongue. It was sufficient to get him into trouble. However, it was also his ticket to fame. Seaman remember the great navigator and the cartographer - the man who sailed with Captain Cook and who fought (at Copenhagen in 1801) next to Horatio Nelson. But the public will always remember the ill-tempered martinet, fairly or not, whose tongue made nautical history.
When watching this great motion picture keep in mind that it is now over sixty (60)years old! Even through the passage of time it provides for entertaining viewing. Charles Laughtons performance as William Bligh captain of the Bounty basically set the standard as how Bligh is pictured and thought of when his name is mentioned. Other actors have portrayed Bligh but it is Laughtons portrayal that is remembered most. The 1984 version with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson is probably a more historical version of actual events but this 1935 classic will most likely always be the sentimental favorite.
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!
With three fine leading performances, lavish settings and scenery, and an
engrossing story, the 1935 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" is certainly
the best cinema version of the familiar story, whether or not it is
historically accurate. The 1962 version had some quality aspects, but it
seemed to suffer from some odd casting and from over-extending itself. The
revisionist 80's version made claims to being more historically accurate
than the others, which may or may not be the case, and it was interesting
for Anthony Hopkins's distinctive portrayal of Captain Bligh, but it was
otherwise an unremarkable and not especially creative film.
The trio of Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone set a standard that none of the rest could come close to equaling. Laughton is perfect as Bligh, or at least as the kind of captain that Bligh is/was commonly assumed to have been. Gable does very well in adapting Fletcher Christian just enough to fit his own strengths - Gable is not quite what you expect of a British naval officer, but if he had tried to force himself into that mold, it probably would have been rather unconvincing. In themselves, Gable's charisma, decisiveness, and energetic personality seem just right for Christian. Tone also fits smoothly into the role of Byam, giving it the right combination of earnestness and restraint.
Their performances are set off nicely by the carefully detailed and interesting settings, and by a supporting cast that gets its share of good moments. The historical truths of the Bounty incident can be fairly debated, since it's unlikely that anyone now knows the inside story. But setting aside those questions, and purely as a movie, it would be hard to argue the virtues of this version of the story.
Based on the then-popular novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman
Hall, the 1935 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is among a series of legendary
films of the 1930s that have been repeatedly celebrated for cinematic
achievement. And small wonder: the film has a host of powerful assets.
The single most obvious among these is the star power involved: led by two Oscar-winning stars, the critically formidable Charles Laughton and the incredibly popular Clark Gable, the cast reads like a Who's Who of mid-1930s male actors ranging from leading man Franchot Tone to the memorable character actor Donald Crisp. In a visual sense, the film is also a knockout: filmed on location in a full-size replica of the Bounty, it set a new standard for capturing the sea on film. And the story itself is powerful, the tale of the battle between the cruel and autocratic Bligh and the humane and populist Fletcher Christian. Taken together, it makes for a powerful ride.
Still, some viewers may not find MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY all it is cracked to be. Then as now, Hollywood was less interested in getting the facts right than in telling a good story--and from a factual point of view the film is perhaps twenty percent accurate and eighty percent nothing more nor less than historical tarradiddle. That is no real hindrance per se; after all, we're not watching a documentary. But seen from a modern standpoint the cast now feels somewhat problematic.
Charles Laughton was so critically well regarded that he received star billing over Clark Gable for the film, and seen today his performance is easily the single most powerful in the entire film. Autocratic, brilliant, and immediately and increasingly unlikable, he drives the film from start to finish--and it is here, really, in which most of the film's historical accuracy resides. The rest of the cast, however, is extremely Hollywood. Clark Gable, Franchot Tone and all the rest give an excellent show, full of power and drive--but you never for a moment forget that they are indeed Hollywood stars and not members of the British Navy.
This is very much a "big" film in the MGM tradition, often brilliant, often memorable, and often setting new standards for the motion picture industry. And when regarded from that point of view it is extremely, extremely entertaining. But it may also be a film whose power has slightly faded with the passing of time.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Wow. I haven't seen this movie for many years and it turned out to be
even better than I'd remembered it. I really have to admire this film,
as the acting and entire production are top-notch. I rarely give 10s,
but this one comes very close--oh, heck...the more I think about it,
the more I realize it does deserve it.
As far as the historical accuracy of the film goes, while it isn't perfect (after all, Bligh's exact role in starting the mutiny is tough to determine), it did get most of the points of this true tale correct--showing a rare reverence for the source material. All too often, history takes a back seat to making a marketable film. The only major thing the film got seriously wrong were the mutineers themselves. However, this is because only recent excavations have shown that the men who mutinied in effect killed each other off--as they apparently WERE scum after all. But, based on material available at the time, it was pretty good. As to Bligh's temperament, the British admiralty found Bligh completely blameless. However, later as governor of Australia, Bligh alienated everyone and was, by most accounts, a real jerk. So, the essence of the film appears to be true. Hmm...for once I have no serious complaints about the accuracy of a historical film--that's pretty rare.
The best part of the film, however, is that the actors were absolutely on top of their game. Charles Laughton, though prone to overacting by all accounts, was exceptional here. Clark Gable was in his element--and simply one of his best film roles. The same can also be said of Franchot Tone--here, he has a much deeper and meatier role than usual. In fact, the three came off so well that all three were nominated for Best Actor--necessitating the creation of Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories. The rest of the cast, the supporting journeymen actors, were great--with Donald Crisp (with hair!!) excellent as a troublemaker, Dudley Diggs as a very sympathetic drunkard and many others in top form.
The direction by Frank Lloyd, the cinematography, music, sets and location shooting were also wonderful. So why, if this film was so perfect, would they try remaking it?! This is a great example of a film whose remakes definitely pale by comparison. A perfect or at least near-perfect film in every way.
By the way, if you are curious about the real life Bligh, after both this mutiny and the rebellion in Australia (that he appeared to instigate), he was rewarded with the rank of Rear Admiral! Who says life has to be fair?
In a decade that saw some spectacular movies in a variety of genres (from
"All Quiet On The Western Front" in 1930 to "Gone With The Wind" and "The
Wizard Of Oz" in 1939) "Mutiny On The Bounty" is in every way at least equal
to and in my opinion better than any of the others. It is a classic example
of movie-making at its finest.
Technically the film is superb. Well filmed and with realistic sets, the viewer feels as if he really is on an 18th century British Navy vessel. I remember as a teenager coming across this movie halfway through and not really knowing what it was about but being captured by the vividly realistic portrayal of life at sea. That feeling has never gone away when I watch it. The performances are breath-taking. Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Franchot Tone as Roger Byam are excellent, but it is Charles Laughton as Bligh who steals the show. Everything about Laughton in this film screams "Captain Bligh," and his is almost certainly the face that comes to mind when one contemplates the historical figure of Bligh. All three were nominated for Oscars, as was director Frank Lloyd (and inexplicably failed to win, although the film itself was named 1935's Best Picture.) The film mixes adventure, gripping drama and even humour into about two and a quarter hours of sheer enjoyment.
You can quibble about a few things. Apparently history suggests that Bligh might not have been quite this sadistic nor Christian quite so noble. There's a strange shot of the Bounty being run aground by Christian at Pitcairn Island, and as the ship is about to crash into the island the film inexplicably reverses and the end of the shot is clearly going backward for about 2 seconds. I admit that it was passing strange that both Fletcher Christian and Roger Byam speak with American accents, making one wonder how these guys were in the British Navy (but for the sake of Gable's and Tone's performances that can be overlooked) and at the end the movie gets a bit preachy (particularly Byam's speech to his court-martial.) But these are minor and do not detract from one's enjoyment of the film.
Watch this if you never have. Watch it again if you have, and watch it over and over if you can. It is a masterpiece. 9/10
By 1935 the worst years of the depression were over, the pitfalls of
the early talkies had been overcome, and Hollywood was starting to
regain its confidence. For the first time in several years pictures
were being made as big and bold as they had been in the late silent
era. And like the flagship of this new era comes this highly
fictionalised account of the Bounty mutineers.
Although this is very much a Hollywood production, it may seem a little strange to see that all-American lead idol Clark Gable playing an Englishman. This being the days before such things really mattered, and Gable not really being one to shift his persona too much, he makes no attempt whatsoever at an English accent. And yet he fits in very well. Gable always carried with him a touch of the theatre where he cut his teeth, and proves himself a powerful counterpoint to the blustering Charles Laughton. With his barrel chest, wavy hair and easygoing swagger he does have the makings of a swashbuckling hero, and this is the role Fletcher Christian takes in this adventuresome adaptation. Gable is, in a way, Hollywood's ambassador in the story just about convincing as an 18th century naval officer, but familiar enough to give US audiences a lead into the movie.
Opposite Gable is a mix of American faces and the British actors who had started to migrate stateside. Charles Laughton's performance as Captain Bligh is integral to the movie. You realise here that Laughton was rather a short man, and he plays on this, making Bligh a jumped-up, Napoleon-complexed bully; all sharp, jabbing motions, an arrogant stance and a face like a dead fish. Alongside Gable and Laughton, the third Best Actor nominee was Franchot Tone, although he is not really exceptional, merely worthy. There is a typically strong turn from Donald Crisp, and Eddie Quillan is surprisingly decent if a little overwrought. The only wrong note is perhaps Herbert Mundin, or at least his character. The bumbling little comedy performer was always good to see in Errol Flynn adventures and the like but he is wrong for this more serious affair. Note how he seems to disappear from the story when the mutiny takes place, which is fair enough one couldn't really imagine that sweet little chap joining the mutineers or cast adrift and dying by inches.
The director is one of the masters of old Hollywood, multiple Oscar-winner Frank Lloyd. Lloyd's smooth, confident set-ups bring a tense, fractious feel to life on board ship, while never using too much obvious technique as to make it seem artificial. A lot of shots, such as the early one of Gable leading the press gang, show men facing each other in profile, aggressive, combative. In almost every shot we are made to feel the motion of the ship, and even below decks we have the swinging of hammocks. By contrast the scenes on dry land are palpably solid, emphasising the change to a more peaceful life on Tahiti. Lloyd is also one for composing tableaux that are memorable and iconic. There's an odd-looking but very effective shot shortly before the flogging scene, with punishment-doler Morrison staring coldly ahead on the left-hand edge of the frame, that has seared itself into my memory.
And ultimately it is just such a grand, iconic feel that characterises Mutiny on the Bounty. The Herbert Stothart score is a bombastic medley of nautical themes and emotional underscoring. The forceful, rhythmic editing of Margaret Booth provides us with some striking montages. And of course there is the fact that nothing is faked. Full-size replica ships were built and location filming was carried out in Polynesia, with none of the ugly back projection shooting that mars many pictures before and after. Such a mighty production demonstrates why you need such larger-than-life stars as Gable and Laughton. Here is a movie that does everything it can to announce that big Hollywood is back in all its glory.
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