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.
Marlon Brando, wearing his naval uniform, was widely booed and jeered at the New York City premiere, while Trevor Howard received thunderous applause. Brando walked out of the cinema after the audience started laughing at his English accent.
The scene where the ship arrives in Tahiti, to be rapturously greeted by the natives, was filmed in the same spot where the real Bounty dropped anchor in 1788. Six thousand local extras were used for the sequence.
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 (his 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.
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.
Richard Harris agreed to take a third-billed role in this film purely to work with Marlon Brando. However, Brando's on-set behavior soured his adoration of the star. Harris would later describe the production as "nightmarish" and "a total fucking disaster".
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 thirty-three when the Bounty set sail, and thirty-five at the time of the mutiny. After all the problems filming, Howard said he wished he had turned the film down.
In reality, Captain Bligh was not a "flogging Captain". The ship's log shows that Bligh flogged less, not more, than most other Captains. But he had an acid tongue, believed he was always right, and did not hesitate to berate his officers in front of the men, destroying their authority. This was the real cause of the mutiny.
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.
Not only did Marlon Brando improvise his lines in scenes with Trevor Howard, making it impossible for his co-star to pick up his cues, but he even started putting cotton in his ears so he couldn't hear Howard's lines.
Marlon Brando was standoffish with the British cast. Moreover, he alienated several of them with his chronic lateness on the set, and his habit of changing his interpretation of scenes after rehearsing them. On the day they shot the scene where the natives welcome the Bounty to their island, he repeatedly ignored calls to the set, while he was talking to some local women. When he finally showed up, Trevor Howard, who had been sweltering in the hot sun waiting, lost his temper and walked off the set, making Brando wait for him.
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, 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 re-used as the Edinburgh Trader in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), and sank during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The scene where Christian strikes Mills was problematic. On the first take, when Marlon Brando struck Richard Harris, it was a damp squib. Harris responded with a mock curtsy and waggled a limp wrist in the air. Brando didn't get the joke. On the second take, the blow was weak. Harris thrust his chin forward and said, "Come on, big boy, why don't you fucking kiss me and be done with it!" Brando glared, white with rage. Then Harris kissed him on the cheek, hugged him, and said "Shall we dance?" Angry and embarrassed, Brando stormed off the set.
One morning, Trevor Howard was nowhere to be found until the local police drove him to the dock two hours after his call. He had been up drinking and carousing all night, but still performed his scene flawlessly.
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 (this movie and Cleopatra (1963)) to balloon out of control. Aside from their paychecks (1.25 million dollars for Brando, with overages; a minimum of one million dollars 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 forty-four million dollars (approximately three hundred thirty million in 2012 dollars, making it the most expensive film ever made, when adjusted for inflation) and earned the studio only twenty-six million dollars in rentals, against a budget of nineteen million dollars and less than ten million dollars in losses for "Bounty". While MGM was hurt financially, "Cleopatra" nearly bankrupted Fox. In his defense, Brando later pointed out that MGM charged five hundred thousand dollars, paid in the mid 1930s to the book's two authors, to the budget of this 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 this movie, 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.
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.
During one scene, after a dozen or so takes, Marlon Brando gave up and simply walked off set muttering, "I don't know if it's going to work or not". Sir Richard Harris was left agog. When it was clear that Brando wasn't coming back, he yelled after him, "Damn you! Look at me! Act! Who the hell do you think you are?"
Even though The Bounty was larger than the original ship, the vessel was so small, crew members were hard pressed to find places to hide, so they would be out of camera range, and the ship reacted so violently to each ocean wave, that there was an epidemic of seasickness.
Marlon Brando slowed down production, questioning each line in the script and each of Lewis Milestone's suggestions. He also demanded repeated re-writes to meet his ever-changing vision of the film. Most days started with Brando and Charles Lederer going over the day's scenes in private until well past noon, when the actor would finally emerge ready to shoot. Although Brando often derided the director as mechanical and unfeeling, and even suggested he was going senile, whenever Milestone threatened to quit, it was Brando who begged him to return.
During the final weeks of location filming, Marlon Brando decided to move into an abandoned villa thirty miles further from the shoot than his previous house. MGM spent several thousand dollars remodelling the place, so he could live in it for two weeks.
When Richard Harris arrived in Tahiti, bottle of bourbon in hand, the clerk at the check-in desk said, "Good morning, Mister Harris." A bemused Harris asked, "How do you know my name?" The clerk replied, "I recognized you from your hand luggage."
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 British plantations. Ironically, the breadfruit seedlings which Bligh brought to Jamaica as an inexpensive food for the slaves working on British 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.
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.
As shooting dragged on, the rainy season hit, further disrupting production. Many days were lost as torrents of rain, at times as much as seventeen inches in one day, fell on the sets. After seventeen days of being unable to film, due to weather, the company returned to the MGM lot in Culver City to shoot interiors.
Carol Reed clashed with Marlon Brando and MGM studio management early in the production. He and Brando disagreed about the interpretation of Captain Bligh, who Brando wanted presented as an unambiguous and obvious villain, and Christian, who Brando wanted to play as a fop. Reed also had problems with the screenplay, but when he tried to omit certain scenes from the shooting schedule, executives ordered him to shoot directly from the script. He tried to convince production head Sol Siegel to fire Brando on the grounds that he was holding up production. When that didn't work, he asked to be relieved, but production head Sol Siegel refused to allow it. Then Siegel decided to fire him. Had Reed been allowed to quit, he would have been paid nothing for his time, but since MGM fired him, he pocketed two hundred thousand dollars for his time on the film.
To promote the film, MGM sent the Bounty on a round-the-world cruise to visit the various cities where the film was to open. When it reached London, Trevor Howard joined a crowd of admiring on-lookers to watch it sail up the Thames, where the Tower Bridge was raised to let it pass. When a publicity man asked Howard, "She is beautiful, isn't she?" He replied, "Of course. She's mine."
Richard Harris was originally offered a different role, which he rejected, because it was too small. When he was offered the role of John Mills, he demanded star billing with Marlon Brando. That was declined, but he did get more money.
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.
Lewis Milestone never directed another film (though he did direct two television series episodes before his death in 1980). His final take for the film was two hundred fifty thousand dollars. In later interviews, he would estimate that Marlon Brando's behavior had cost the production six million dollars.
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 dismissed.
Producer Aaron Rosenberg had originally planned to shoot the film in sequence, starting with shipboard scenes under the gray skies of October, then bursting into color with scenes shot in Tahiti. With the reconstructed Bounty arriving late to the location, director Carol Reed had to start shooting the island sequences first, or any footage that did not require the ship in the background. Even then, Reed ran out of completed script pages before the Bounty arrived.
Before the film was released, the Saturday Evening Post published a scathing article about the production titled "The Mutiny of Marlon Brando". Drawing largely on an interview with Lewis Milestone, they recounted everything Brando had done to delay the production, with little mention of problems with the Bounty set, or the weather on-location. Brando got the new head of MGM, Joseph R. Vogel, to issue a statement exonerating him from any role in the film's escalating budget or production delays (that statement would later be used against Vogel when he was fired) and sued the magazine for five million dollars. He would drop the case before it came to trial.
On one occasion, Marlon Brando moved the marks where Richard Harris was supposed to stand during a tense scene on the deck of The Bounty. Over the next three takes, he'd change his mind, and move Harris somewhere else. Harris, knowing that Brando was looking for a confrontation, meekly went where he was told. He told his fellow actors, "Forget your grand ideas, lads. We're just cabbages in that man's cabbage patch."
The film cost an estimated nineteen million dollars in 1962 (approximately one hundred forty-four million dollars in 2012 dollars), which was a huge expenditure at the time. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which had an even longer shoot, seventeen months, compared to eight for this movie, was brought in for approximately five million dollars 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 this movie, and generated more than twice the amount of rentals for its studio. Though some claim this film eventually went into profit with its sale to television, 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 failure of this picture signalled the end of Marlon Brando's grasp on super-stardom for a decade, until his Oscar-winning role in The Godfather (1972).
At the "climax" of Maimiti's dance for Mr. Christian, there are two jump cuts, revealing that about a second of the dance is repeated twice, adding to the superhuman appearance of her efforts. Reviewers have not disparaged this special effect.
At one point in the film, Fletcher Christian tells Midshipman Young to get the ship's carpenter to build him a cross so Young can carry it about the ship in sarcasm to Young's disgust at low morale amongst the crew. The ship's carpenter of the Bounty, although never seen in the film, was William Purcell who stayed loyal to Bligh, and lived to an old age, dying in March 1834.
Trevor Howard and Richard Harris would later play the same character in separate versions of "The Count Of Monte Cristo", yet decades apart. They both played Abbe Faria: Trevor Howard (1975), and Richard Harris (2002).
Marlon Brando claimed that the real problem with the film was MGM's failure to deliver a complete script in the year and a half he worked on the film, despite numerous promises to do so, even when he threatened to stop reporting to work. He also claimed the studio inflated the film's budget, adding six million dollars in overhead charges, including the cost for rights to the original novels.
Filming on The Bounty was hellish, as strong offshore winds constantly battered the ship, inducing mass seasickness. Trevor Howard said that every evening, after returning to his hotel, he continued to feel the ground shaking beneath his feet. "And that was before I'd had a fucking drink."
Marlon Brando refused the film twice, and both roles, Bligh and Christian, before signing on for five hundred thousand dollars against ten percent of the gross, plus five thousand dollars a day if shooting went over-schedule. It did nothing else, and his overtime, alone, hit one million dollars. After shooting for two months, Brando decided he'd rather play the botanist (Richard Hayden).
In the scene of William Bligh's court-martial, the judge reprimands Bligh for his "excess of zeal" in administering discipline and comments contemptuously on his family background: "the Admiralty has always sought to appoint its officers from the ranks of gentlemen". This is unhistorical. In reality, the court not only exonerated Bligh, but praised him for his bravery and exemplary seamanship in his command of the open vessel that Bligh and the loyalists managed to reach Timor in. (This film passes rapidly over this voyage, in stark contrast to The Bounty (1984), which is markedly more sympathetic to Bligh.) In his book "The Hollywood History of the World" (1988), screenwriter and historical novelist George MacDonald Fraser calls this scene "an offensive fiction" and says that despite the film's insistence on the difference between Bligh and Christian's social backgrounds, "both men were from good, but not upper-class families."
When the sailor who was being "Keel hauled" for attacking Captain Bligh disappears under the Bounty because he was attacked by sharks, the ominous music notes played as the shark swims by, sound the same as the signature theme from Jaws (1975).
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 forty-foot model Bounty was constructed and burned instead.