Actor James Cagney was sailing his boat off of Catalina Island, California, and passed the area where the film's crew was shooting aboard the Bounty replica. Cagney called to director Frank Lloyd, an old friend, and said that he was on vacation and could use a couple of bucks, and asked if Lloyd had any work for him. Lloyd put him into a sailor's uniform, and Cagney spent the rest of the day as an extra playing a sailor aboard the Bounty. Cagney is clearly visible near the beginning of the movie.
The only film in Oscar history that had three nominees for Best Actor: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone. Because of this, the Academy introduced a Best Supporting Actor Oscar shortly afterward to ensure this situation would not be repeated. They all lost to Victor McLaglen for The Informer (1935), the only nominee not in this film.
Irving Thalberg cast Clark Gable and Charles Laughton together in the hope that they would hate each other, making their on screen sparring more lifelike. He knew that Gable, a notorious homophobe, would not care for Laughton's overt homosexuality and would feel inferior to the RADA-trained Shakespearean actor. Relations between the two stars broke down completely after Laughton brought his muscular boyfriend to the island as his personal masseur. They were an obviously devoted couple and would go everywhere together, while Gable would turn away in disgust. In addition, Laughton felt that he should have won the Best Actor Oscar for The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934). In the event, he was not even nominated and the award went to Gable for It Happened One Night (1934).
Clark Gable was initially disappointed when Franchot Tone was cast as Byam. The two actors had been bitter rivals for the affections of Joan Crawford, and did not like each other at all. However, during filming Gable surprisingly became close friends with Tone when they discovered a mutual interest in alcohol and women, both of which were abundantly available in Avalon, the island of Catalina's famous pleasure town.
Charles Laughton, playing William Bligh, who performed one of the world's greatest feats of navigation after having been cast adrift at sea by the Bounty mutineers, was in reality terrified of the ocean and was violently seasick throughout most of the filming.
In order to break the ice before shooting, Clark Gable, apparently unaware of co-star Charles Laughton's homosexuality, took him to a brothel. Laughton's wife Elsa Lanchester always said that Laughton was nevertheless "flattered" by this gesture.
Years later, in a conversation with playwright George S. Kaufman, Charles Laughton remarked that he had given such a good performance in this film because he came from a long line of seafarers. Referring to Laughton's performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Kaufman dryly commented, "I assume, then, that you also came from a long line of hunchbacks?"
An additional tragedy nearly occurred during filming when an 18-foot replica of the Bounty with two crewmen aboard separated from its tow and was adrift for two days before being found by a search party.
The "Pacific Queen" shown in this film is actually a 19th-century ship, originally called the "Balclutha" (although later renamed the "Star of Alaska"). This ship, renamed to its original "Balclutha", can now be found at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco as part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
The sterns of the larger ships in the harbor at the beginning of the film are first rate ships of the line that are similar to the HMS Victory. The producers tried to make these scenes as accurate as possible and it shows.
The Bounty and Pandora were actual life size ships that were built from two old wooden schooners. The builders added outer ribs and frames to the hulls to get the correct width and after replanking them added concrete inside as ballast. Then they were given three masts and rigged in authentic 18th. century style. A 27 foot long model was burned at the end of the film. It was an exact replica of the life size Bounty, but 1-5th of its actual size.
Louis B. Mayer reportedly disliked the script. "Where's the romance?" was his reported complaint. Clark Gable initially objected to playing Christian but was talked into it by executive E.J. Mannix who told him he'd be "... the only guy in the picture who gets anything to do with a dame."
The film was based on a trilogy written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall: "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Men Against the Sea" and "Pitcairn's Island", although events in the last book weren't filmed. Director Frank Lloyd wanted to film a sequel called "Captain Bligh" with Charles Laughton about Bligh's career as governor of an Australian penal colony, but that film was never made.
The last coordinates listed by Bligh in his adrift log put his position as approximately 500 miles east of Salvador, Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean. It's not clear if they are saying Bligh sailed all the way around the Cape of Good Hope and most of the way up the east coast of South America.
Two years after the mutiny, the frigate Pandora arrived in Tahiti and all 14 crew members on the island were rounded up. They were imprisoned on deck in a makeshift cell, derisively called 'Pandora's Box.'