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The Bounty leaves Portsmouth in 1787. Its destination: to sail to Tahiti and load bread-fruit. Captain Bligh will do anything to get there as fast as possible, using any means to keep up a strict discipline. When they arrive at Tahiti, it is like a paradise for the crew, something completely different than the living hell aboard the ship. On the way back to England, officer Fletcher Christian becomes the leader of a mutiny. Written by
Marlon Brando's notorious on-set antics reached a pinnacle on this film. According to Peter Manso's Brando biography, Brando had so much clout by this point that he got MGM to green-light virtually every outrageous idea he had. At one point, he pulled people off the film crew to decorate and design a friend's wedding in Tahiti. Another time he had airplanes filled with cases of champagne, turkeys and hams flown to Tahiti for parties. See more »
After being set adrift, Captain Bligh and his men went to the island of Tafua to resupply their provisions of food and water. It was after their incident with the cannibal natives that they decided not to land again until reaching Kupang. In the film, Bligh never went to Tafua, deciding to plan the course directly for Kupang (or Timor, according to him). See more »
While our mission remains unfulfilled I'm not in any port, Mr Fryer, I'm command where you may find one day it's always lonely. You see, command allows no intimacies. You can hardly expect unquestioning obedience from last night's partner in a debauch.
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When the legend becomes fact, film the legend (to adapt the famous quotation from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). The story is the well-known one of how a British naval crew, while on a voyage to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, revolt against their brutal and sadistic captain under the leadership of the humane first mate and sail off to make a new life for themselves with their Tahitian sweethearts on the remote Pacific island of Pitcairn. Historical evidence, in fact, suggests that Captain William Bligh was not particularly brutal or sadistic, but this film, like its 1935 predecessor, is a film based upon legend rather than upon strict historical fact.
The late 18th century is often described as the Age of Revolution, and as the Bounty mutiny took place in 1787, midway between the American and French Revolutions, there would have been an obvious temptation to play Bligh as a decadent aristocrat and Fletcher Christian, the leader of the rebels, as a man of the people, standing up for the Rights of the Common Man. The temptation to portray Christian as a proto-Jacobin is, however, firmly resisted. In this film, it is Christian who is the aristocrat and Bligh, ever insecure about his social status, who is from a humbler background.
This is sometimes regarded as the film which started the decline in Brando's reputation. In his previous film, One Eyed Jacks, which he had also directed, he had gained a reputation as an obsessive perfectionist, but, artistically, the result was a very fine film with an excellent performance from Brando himself. In Mutiny on the Bounty, however, Brando proved to be equally obsessive, but the resulting film is not quite in the same class. Moreover, Brando's performance is one of his weaker ones. Much of the criticism (on this side of the Atlantic, at least) has centred upon his British accent. In terms of phonetic sound-values, in fact, Brando's effort is quite a reasonable attempt at an upper-class drawl- the real Fletcher Christian, the son of a Cumberland farmer, would probably have spoken with a strong northern accent- but it always sounds strained and unnatural. This sort of linguistic accuracy is probably unnecessary in period dramas, anyway. We do not know exactly how people spoke in the 18th century, but the available evidence suggests that the difference between British and American accents was much less marked than it is today. I was struck by the contrast with another big American star playing a British naval officer, Gregory Peck in Captain Horatio Hornblower. Although Peck's accent still sounds American, it also sounds more natural and is less distracting to the viewer.
The main problem, however, is not Brando's accent, but rather the way in which his character is played. Christian is played not only as an aristocrat, but also as a languid, foppish dandy. Bligh accuses him of hating both effort and ambition, and there appears to be some justice in the accusation. For too long Christian remains a passive, emotionless character, so the clash of temperaments between him and Bligh remains a muted one. Only during the mutiny itself does he come alive. The idea was presumably to show that Bligh was such a tyrant that even a passionless fop could be roused to anger by his behaviour, but this conception seems to me to waste much of the dramatic potential inherent in the story.
Brando apart, however, I found this a reasonably good film. Trevor Howard's portrayal of Bligh as a tyrannical martinet may have been historically inaccurate, but it was certainly convincing. (Even so, I still think that the best of the three actors to play the part was Anthony Hopkins in the 1984 version, which portrayed Bligh in a less one-dimensional way. Clark Gable remains the best Christian). The film is attractively shot, especially the Tahitian scenes, and Lewis Milestone handles the direction in such a way as to ensure that the story does not drag, as it easily could have done in a film of this length. (The film takes three hours to tell a story that the 1935 and 1984 versions told in just over two). Although it is not quite as good as the 1935 version, it is still a very watchable epic of the sea. 7/10
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