Mutiny on the Bounty, the
1935 classic starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable as Captain Bligh and
Fletcher Christian respectively, won the Oscar for Best Picture in its day.
Briefly, Lt William Bligh takes the ship HMS Bounty on a supply mission
to the South Pacific, but his penny-pinching and ludicrously harsh treatment
of sailors eventually prompt Christian, a midshipman, to take matters into his
own hands. Byers (an excellent performance from Franchot Tone) is caught
between duty and morality in a strong subplot. Bligh is cast adrift with
several still loyal to him, and makes a stunning 4000 mile journey in a tiny
boat to reach help; by this stage Christian and the mutineers have established
themselves in Tahiti, but flee Bligh’s pursuit in the hope of finding a safe
Despite the changes in filmmaking technique and acting
which have occurred in the 70 years since it was made, the film remains fresh
and entertaining, and it’s easy to see why it deserved the win. Dropping his
trademark moustache (but not his American accent!) for historical accuracy,
Gable makes Christian a figure of decency and justified action, whereas
Laughton’s Bligh is so transparently evil it’s a wonder the crew let him get
out of Portsmouth harbour. The film paints with broad strokes, occasionally
making it creaky or dated, but I found it stood up pretty well beside last
year’s Master and Commander in terms of capturing the subject and the
era. Aside from a rather sudden wrap-up of the plot and a tendency to shy away
from anything brutal or violent (difficult given the subject), Mutiny on
the Bounty remains an entertaining and well-structured film well worth a
print is served well by a sharp and clear transfer; occasional damage is
evident with frames dropping out, and grain, dirt and scratches on some of the
exteriors and stock footage are very apparent.
Original mono soundtrack, which is very
clear, dynamic and engaging given the technology of the time.
A trailer and an Academy
Awards snippet are both pedestrian; an MGM short film of the era looks at
Pitcairn Island 150 years after the mutiny and examines the fate of the
mutineers’ descendents in an interesting piece.