Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Directed by Frank Lloyd

For adventures at sea, it’s still hard to surpass MGM’s 1935 spectacular, Mutiny on the Bounty. There have been several movies made of the Bounty’s story, most rooted in the 1932 books The Bounty Trilogy (Charles Nordhoff-James Norman Hall).

Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1935, while an adventure film set a sea, the movie works because it’s rooted in strong characters and their conflicts.

With a crew made of Royal Navy officers, sailors, some criminals and a few men press-ganged into service, the H.M.S. Bounty sets out from Portsmouth on a two year voyage to Tahiti where they will gather breadfruit plants as a cheap food source for plantation slave laborers.

The ship has the tyrannical and sadistic Captain Bligh at its head (play by Charles Laughton). First officer to the captain is Master Mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), a respected and fair officer.

Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

Bligh sets the tone of the voyage at the start, even before sailing, when he insists on going through with a flogging even though the prisoner is already dead. It’s his way of letting his crew know he is in command and on the ship and his will rules.

The voyage is a long one, continually punctuated by Bligh’s cruelties. He even punishes members of the crew for his own lies. He pilfers from the food stores for his own gain, and the crew suffers from poor food and little of it.

His sadistic inclinations grow and as they do so does the dissent on the ship, and the conflict within Christian about obeying his duty as an officer and what he feels is right.

The animosity between Bligh and Christian also grows and Bligh, threatened, looks for ways of to abuse his Master Mate, though he’s constrained by the fact Christian is an officer.

They finally come to Tahiti, a South Seas paradise where the natives are friendly and kind and the crew finally experience some relief from Bligh’s cruelties.

The interlude is not long, however, and as soon as Bligh’s mission is complete he is ready to set sail.

Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

Still obsessive and cruel, it’s not long before Christian can take no more and he leads the crew to mutiny.

After setting Bligh adrift in a boat with as many who still support him as the small boat can carry, Christian takes the crew back to Tahiti.

It does not end there, however. Bligh survives and manages to return, commanding a new ship, his obsession now to capture Christian and see him tried and hung for mutiny.

The movie’s thrust is the poor treatment of crews in the Royal Navy and the harsh discipline from its officers, and how this aspect weakens the fleet. After the incident of the bounty, changes take place within the Royal Navy to correct this situation and recognize a captain can’t lead through tyrannical cruelty.

The Bounty at sea - scene from Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

Hollywood movies of this period love England and particularly love its Navy. So despite its subject, Mutiny on the Bounty champions its good officers like Christian and sees a Captain such as Bligh not as a part of the Royal fleet but as an anomaly, a kind of cancer that needs rooting out.

Ultimately, though, Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the great sea adventures on film with only a small few other films in the same category of merit.

Note on the DVD

Somehow, Warner Bros. manages to get some stunning transfers of old films onto its discs (though this one is an MGM film, whose library Warner now controls). The disc does waver, however. Some scenes, or sections of scenes, are much more grainy or fuzzy than others, but overall the movie is remarkably clean and clear. For a 1935 movie, this is a great transfer.

1 Response

Leave a Reply