Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor were criticized in the media for what was perceived as their part in causing the budgets of their epic films ("Mutiny on the Bounty" and Cleopatra (1963)) to balloon out of control. Aside from their paychecks ($1.25 million for Brando, with overages; a minimum of $1 million to Taylor, both record salaries for the time), the press claimed it was prima donna behavior on the part of the two stars that caused the resulting fiscal hardships at their respective studios, MGM and 20th-Century Fox. Although both films were costly, and neither made a profit, "Cleopatra" was a far more costly flop. It was budgeted at $44 million (approximately $330 million in 2012 dollars, making it the most expensive film ever made when adjusted for inflation) and earned the studio only $26 million in rentals, against a budget of $19 million and less than $10 million in losses for "Bounty." While MGM was hurt financially, "Cleopatra" nearly bankrupted Fox. In his defense, Brando later pointed out that MGM charged $500,000 - paid in the mid-1930s to the book's two authors - to the budget of the remake, an example of creative accounting that makes Hollywood profit-and-loss statements highly suspect. Whatever the truth, the fact is that Brando's career went into decline after "Bounty," whereas Taylor went on to win a second Oscar and remained among the highest paid movie stars in the world throughout the 1960s. Brando would regain his star power, however, during the 1970s.
For almost four decades, the ship used in this film, built to MGM's specifications at Lunenburg's Smith and Rhuland Ltd., has been a popular tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, Florida. Visitors get to tour the ship itself and learn more about both the historical H.M.S. Bounty and MGM's two screen versions of the Nordhoff and Hall book. She was reused as the Edinburgh Trader in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), and sank during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
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.
During the filming of the movie, Marlon Brando's weight fluctuated wildly and he began to regularly split the seat of the pants on his costumes. The costumer solved the problem by putting stretch fabric in Brando's pants.
The film cost an estimated $19 million in 1962 (approximately $144 million in 2012 dollars), which was a huge expenditure at the time. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which had an even longer shoot - 17 months, compared to eight for "Bounty" - was brought in for approximately $5 million less. Though this film broke even, it was considered a flop, as MGM earned back only a little over half the budget in rentals (the amount remitted to the studio from theaters). By contrast, "Lawrence" grossed twice as much as Bounty and generated more than twice the amount of rentals for its studio.) Though some claim the second "Bounty" film eventually went into profit with its sale to TV, films were generally sold in packages, so it is unlikely that the film ever stopped the flow of red ink on MGM's books. The flop of this picture signaled the end of Marlon Brando's grasp on super-stardom for roughly a decade, until his Oscar-winning role in The Godfather (1972).
Marlon Brando later wrote a long letter to Trevor Howard apologizing for his behavior during filming. Howard was largely responsible for helping the American star win a libel action against a British newspaper concerning the film. He also agreed to appear with Brando in Morituri (1965).
Hugh Griffith was fired during filming when his alcoholism became unmanageable. That is why his character disappears for large portions of the film. Indeed, his behavior was considered so bad that he was not allowed back onto the island for the final scenes.
Trevor Howard was initially reluctant to play Bligh, because he felt he was far too old for the part. The real life Lieutenant William Bligh was 33 when the Bounty set sail, and 35 at the time of the mutiny. After all the problems filming, Howard said he wished he had turned the film down.
According to Bob Thomas's 1973 biography "Marlon: Portait of the Artist as a Rebel", after the firing of Carol Reed, Marlon Brando began to usurp the power of replacement director Lewis Milestone - a well-respected veteran with two directing Oscars to his credit. Milestone noticed that the cameramen would continue rolling in scenes featuring Brando after he had said cut, and would only desist after being signaled by Brando. Milestone considered quitting, but was dissuaded from doing so as it would generate more bad publicity for the film and M.G.M. He stayed on, but loafed around the set, leaving Brando to his own devices. One afternoon, a legendary occurrence transpired: The operating cameraman himself called cut, explaining that the sleeping director's feet were in the frame. When asked about the incident in 1979, Brando dismissed any criticism, saying that actors essentially directed themselves anyways. Hollywood insiders were outraged by Brando's treatment of Milestone, and the backlash from his behavior on this picture (he was blamed fairly or unfairly for the massive cost-overruns that doomed the picture financially) began the steady waning that led to the eclipse of Brando's star by the end of the 1960s.
Marlon Brando, wearing his naval uniform, was widely booed and jeered at the New York premiere, while Trevor Howard received thunderous applause. Brando walked out of the cinema after the audience started laughing at his English accent.
Marlon Brando refused to really hit Richard Harris in a scene which was subsequently edited from the film. At one point Harris whispered, "Shall we dance?", and later he startled Brando by kissing him on the lips.
The Bounty's original reason for going to Tahiti was to transport breadfruit seedlings to Jamaica where they would be cultivated to provide inexpensive food for the slaves working on English plantations.
The scene where the ship arrives in Tahiti to be rapturously greeted by the natives was filmed in exactly the same spot where the real Bounty dropped anchor 150 years before. 6000 local extras were used for the sequence.
Ironically, the breadfruit seedlings which Bligh brought to Jamaica as an inexpensive food for the slaves working on English plantations were an utter failure. The slaves took one bite, and refused to eat any more. In effect, they mutinied, just like Bligh's crew.
In 1805, Bligh was appointed governor of New South Wales. Sometime afterward, complaints of his "oppressive attitude" filtered back to London. Many of these complaints were due to Bligh's attempts to combat corruption; the offenders eventually deposed Bligh.
In 1808, New South Wales Governor Bligh was overthrown in a coup led by his own under-minister, Deputy Governor George Johnston. This mutiny resulted in Bligh being deported to England. Johnston was eventually cashiered.
Lieutenant Bligh (his rank was only that of a Lieutenant, but as he commanded the ship, he was automatically called Captain) was chosen for the mission to Tahiti because he was considered one of the most skilled navigators in the world, having been personally selected by Captain James Cook as Master (hit title now would be Navigator) on his third voyage around the world. Additionally, Captain Bligh had with him the second copy (referred to as K2) of the John Harrison 'Longitude; watch, the world's first Marine Chronometer (a clock or watch accurate and rugged enough to be used for navigation at sea). It was recovered, still functioning, from Pitcairn Island and is stored at the National Maritime Museum near London.
The ship built for the film sank in the Atlantic Ocean after taking on water on October 29, 2012 during Hurricane Sandy off of the East Coast of the United States. It was last seen with only the masts standing above the water. Two of the crew died: the captain, Robin Walbridge, and Claudene Christian - the direct descendant of Fletcher Christian.
According to a 1980 "Films in Review" career article on Brando, screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen claims that the finale of the film was suggested by Billy Wilder, approved by Brando, and shot by George Seaton.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Marlon Brando's death scene was filmed with Richard Harris talking to a log, because he refused to act any more with the star. When Brando wanted to film his close ups, Harris threw the log down and said, "Let him talk to this."
The MGM built vessel was to be burned at the conclusion of the movie, as the historical ship had been: Marlon Brando said if they burned the ship he would not finish the film. A 40-foot model Bounty was constructed and burned instead.