Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)


(director: Frank Lloyd; screenwriters: based on the novels Mutiny on the Bounty and Men Against the Sea by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall/Talbot Jennings/Carey Wilson/Jules Furthman; cinematographer: Arthur Edeson; editor: Margaret Booth; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Clark Gable (Lt. Fletcher Christian), Charles Laughton (Capt. William Bligh), Franchot Tone (Midshipman Roger Byam), Herbert Mundin (Smith), Eddie Quillan (Seaman Thomas Ellison), Dudley Digges (Dr. Bacchus), Donald Crisp (Burkitt), Henry Stephenson (Sir Joseph Banks), Mamo Clark (Maimiti); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving G. Thalberg; MGM; 1935)

“One of Hollywood’s best achievements.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A glossy shot in black and white 18th-century fictionalized sea adventure tale of an actual celebrated naval case. It’s from producer Irving G. Thalberg and MGM, and stands as one of Hollywood’s best achievements. It’s based on the 1932 novels Mutiny on the Bounty and Men Against the Sea by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The gripping screenplay is by Talbot Jennings, Carey Wilson and Jules Furthman. Veteran director Frank Lloyd (“The Sea Hawk”/”Cavalcade”) has done a fine job keeping things exciting and literate, and though lengthy never seems too long. It won the Oscar for Best Picture.

In 1787, from Portsmouth, aristocratic midshipman Roger Byam is assigned the task of compiling a Tahitian dictionary. He joins the sadistic self-made Captain Bligh and his first mate, the aristocratic, fair-minded and courageous Fletcher Christian, aboard the man-o’-war HMS Bounty for a two-year voyage to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants to feed the slaves. Bligh’s uncontrollable meanness is shown early on as the man being punished dies but the captain insists the flogging continues until fully carried out.

After much abuse at sea, things come to a head over Bligh’s brutal flogging of the sick old ship’s popular doctor that results in his death. It results in a mutiny on the return voyage from Tahiti. After the mutiny, the men under Christian dwell in Tahiti and later on in the uncharted Pitcairn Island as Christian goes native and marries Maimiti. The film mainly concentrates on Bligh’s miraculous 3500 mile open boat voyage to reach the nearest port of call and the ensuing court-martial in England.

Laughton is magnificent in his portrait of a humorless embittered evil monster; Gable is dynamic as the voice of reason and social conscience striking a note against Brit imperialism; Tone is excellent as the humane aristocrat. The film’s focus is on the clash between Bligh and Christian, as Brit naval service is viewed as an adventure for the aristocrats but a misery for the common man (many of them are forcefully drafted into naval service).