Well, since I revealed my shared birthday with Clark Gable last year, I have decided to rechristen today’s special once-a-year post as being part of my new series The King Of Hollywood And I: A Birthday Celebration (with the previous reviews of Clark Gable films on this day to be included)! Under this new series, we shall start off with the classic 1935 Clark Gable movie Mutiny On The Bounty, also starring Charles Laughton!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Pitcairn Island Today (1935)
(available as an extra on the Mutiny On The Bounty Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 9 minutes, 39 seconds)
As narrated by Carey Wilson, we get a quick history of the journey of the mutineers from the Bounty. After that, we see what things were like (at the time this short was made) on the island of Pitcairn. Numerous descendants of the mutineers still remained on the island, living a simple life. There was some footage borrowed from the 1933 film In The Wake Of The Bounty. It’s an interesting short (and one that was made to help promote the 1935 movie Mutiny On The Bounty), but it’s not one that I feel the need to revisit at any point soon.
And Now For The Main Feature…
It’s December of 1787, and the ship H. M. S. Bounty of the British navy is anchored in Portsmouth Harbour, England. Preparations are underway for a two-year trip to the Tahitian islands to collect some breadfruit trees (needed in the West Indies as a relatively cheap source of food for slaves). Press gangs led by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) help fill out the crew, and Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is sent along as a midshipman by Sir Joseph Banks (Henry Stephenson), who hopes that Roger will be able to help compile a Tahitian dictionary for him. When Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) comes on board the ship before they sail, he orders the whole crew to observe a “flogging through the fleet” of a man who struck his captain. The man is dead by the time he gets to their ship, but the captain gives the order to have him flogged, just the same. Once the ship is under way, Captain Bligh strongly maintains discipline on the ship. He underfeeds the men and is quick to have punishment administered even to those who call him out for his own greed and fraud. This angers Christian, and the two are almost at each other’s throats when they arrive at Tahiti. There, they are met by the island’s chief, Hitihiti (William Bambridge), who had met the captain when he was on Captain Cook’s ship that arrived there nearly a decade earlier. The captain orders all the men to harvest the breadfruit trees or work on the ship, with Christian in particular not being granted shore leave. Due to Roger’s commission on the Tahitian dictionary, he is allowed to go ashore and live with the chief while he works. He falls in love with the chief’s daughter, Tehani (Movita Castaneda), and the chief is able to wrangle a day’s shore leave for Christian (who falls in love with Maimiti, played by Mamo Clark). Once they have harvested all the breadfruit they need and gotten the ship ready, everybody prepares to leave. Bligh immediately orders the discipline of some men who tried to desert, and requires everyone see it. The problem is that the ship’s drunken surgeon, Bacchus (Dudley Digges), has taken ill, and falls over dead when the captain insists that he be present instead of resting in bed. This incident and further punishment of the deserters is the breaking point for Christian, who leads many of the men in mutiny. Instead of killing the captain, Christian forces him and some of his supporters into a ship’s launch with provisions, and leaves them for dead. Roger and some others didn’t support the mutiny, but were stuck on the ship because there wasn’t enough room for them on the launch. Christian orders the Bounty to return to Tahiti, where the men enjoy their new homes and families. Meanwhile, the determined Captain Bligh helps steer the boat to a hospitable land over a period of nearly fifty days. On Tahiti, Christian and Roger manage to repair their friendship, but things change for everyone when a ship is sighted offshore. Christian and most of the other mutineers and their families get on the ship and leave, while Roger and some others who hadn’t mutinied stay behind. The ship, the Pandora, is captained by Bligh, who has Roger and the other men arrested for mutiny (regardless of whether they were guilty or not). He tries to hunt Christian and the others down, but only manages to run the ship aground. The survivors are taken back to England, where Roger and the mutineers are court-martialed. Will Roger be able to convince the court of his innocence, or will the vengeful Captain Bligh be successful in having him executed?
In real life, there was indeed a ship called the Bounty back in the late 1700s captained by a man named Bligh where the crew mutinied after a visit to Tahiti. That event inspired many tales, and the movies were not immune to telling the story, with an Australian silent film among the earliest in 1916. In the early 1930s, authors Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall borrowed from the legends to write a trilogy of books (Mutiny On The Bounty, Men Against The Sea and Pitcairn’s Island) on the subject. Frank Lloyd bought the film rights to the novels, hoping to direct himself as Bligh, and film it on a replica of the ship during an ocean trip to Tahiti. He sold the rights to MGM, where producer Irving Thalberg was able to convince him to direct it while abandoning his thoughts of starring in it and filming on an ocean trip. They wanted Clark Gable for the role of Fletcher Christian, but he didn’t want to do it, in between hating the period costume and being forced to shave off his mustache. Thalberg was finally able to convince him to take the role with a promise that Gable wouldn’t have to take another part he didn’t want if the movie didn’t become his biggest hit. For the role of Captain Bligh, they wanted somebody who didn’t get along with Gable off-screen to help bring out the hostilities between the characters onscreen. They first asked Wallace Beery, but his hatred for Gable was so much that he didn’t like the idea of being stuck with him for the long location shoot. Instead, they were able to get Charles Laughton, whose lifestyle and acting style caused tension between the two. It worked out well for everybody, with the film being one of the highest grossing movies of the year, and all three leads were nominated for Best Actor that year at the Oscars (but the film’s only win was for Best Picture). Plans were made (at one point or another) for two potential sequels (one following Captain Bligh, and another following Fletcher Christian), but nothing came of that. MGM remade the film in 1962 with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, which was nowhere near as well-received, and the story was told again in 1984 with The Bounty starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (although that version was based on a different source than the Nordhoff and Hall novels) which was more historically accurate but still not as well-liked by audiences.
I first saw this movie about fifteen years ago (give or take a few years) when my family was renting DVDs from Netflix. At that time, I didn’t really take to the film (a combination of my taste in film at the time, not having developed an interest in Clark Gable much beyond Gone With The Wind and a DVD with a bad spot that froze up). I didn’t completely hate it, though, so there was a part of me that wanted to try it again at some point. I finally got around to seeing it again within the last year, and I now find it to be a much more enjoyable film than before! I like Clark Gable’s performance as the more sympathetic-to-his-men Fletcher Christian, especially as we see the cruelty of Captain Bligh slowly but surely get under his skin until he decides to take over the ship. And as Captain Bligh, Charles Laughton gives an equally great performance as the film’s villain, making it very easy to side with Gable’s Christian in the mutiny, even as he gains our sympathy a little when he actually takes care of his men when they are set adrift in the small boat. I’ll admit, it’s hard not to also think of The Caine Mutiny when watching this movie, given their similar concepts. Of course (and this is certainly a bit of a SPOILER for Caine and, to a lesser degree, Bounty), Caine leaves room to question whether the mutiny should have taken place, especially when Bogart’s Captain Queeg seems to be mentally unbalanced. Bounty leaves no room for question, as we see from the start that Laughton’s Captain Bligh is a cruel man without the slightest qualms about his actions, and therefore, his crew should have mutinied. Now, I will grant you, Mutiny On The Bounty is not historically accurate, most of which comes from the novels (which, as I said, drew from the legend and made Captain Bligh much more of a villain than was apparently the case in real life). Still, it’s a very entertaining movie, and one that I’ve come to appreciate more with time! Certainly a great film that I would definitely recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.
Film Length: 2 hours, 13 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
The Sign Of The Cross (1932) – Charles Laughton – The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939)
It Happened One Night (1934) – Clark Gable – San Francisco (1936)
Dancing Lady (1933) – Franchot Tone – Nice Girl? (1941)
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