Directed by: Frank Lloyd
Screenplay by: Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman and Carey Wilson
Starring: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone
My rating: 7/10
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
Broadway Melody of 1936
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Ruggles of Red Gap
Synopsis: The HMS Bounty sets sail for a two-year trip from England to Tahiti. The Captain, Bligh (Charles Laughton), is known for his cruelty and mercilessness toward his crew. As the trip wears on, first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) butts heads with Bligh, torn between loyalty to his captain and the good of the crew.
My first impressions of Mutiny on the Bounty are, well, that it’s a rip-roaring adventure of a film. The pace is quick, and despite an occasionally confusing timeline, it’s all well told.
This film really succeeds in stirring up emotion. There were moments of triumph and conflict and misery and joy and fear and I felt all those things. This was directed by Frank “Cavalcade” Lloyd who, you may remember from last week’s post, was the one who Will Rogers was referring to when Frank Capra thought he was receiving best director at the 6th Academy Awards.
In any case, I enjoyed this one much more than Cavalcade, and think Frank Lloyd definitely deserved his Oscar. (Fun fact: the 8th Academy Awards were when the statues first came to be known as “Oscars”)
The dialogue is incredibly quick, and while it takes some getting into, there is some gold to be had from listening carefully to the rat-a-tat exchanges. My favourite:
Capt. Bligh: Would you care to see the flogging, Sir Joseph?
Sir Joseph: Good heavens no, the only discipline I know is science.
Capt. Bligh: If you think there’s no science in using a cat o’ nine tails, you should watch my boatswain.
This is the second best picture winner in a row to star our main man of the 1930s, Clark Gable. Gable was nominated for a lead actor award, but didn’t win. In fact, this film garnered three lead actor nominations, but didn’t win a single one. Interestingly, it was nominated for the most awards that year (eight) and only walked away with best picture.
The two biggest strengths of this film are the conflict and the characters. Much of the tension is as a result of the dastardly villain Bligh. There seems to be no end to his cruelty.
The relationship between the men, and the personal conflict Fletcher Christian goes through (trying to maintain order and not be subordinate, but clearly disgusted by Bligh’s methods) is very well portrayed.
Early in the film, someone refers to the situation on the ship as a powder magazine and that’s exactly what it is.
However, what I didn’t understand were the motivations of some of the other characters. After the mutiny happens (spoiler?) Bligh is sent off on a lifeboat. But a remarkable number of men choose to join him. Why? Why face certain death with a psychopath who treated everyone like garbage? Bligh’s rising to the occasion once he’s been marooned almost makes him a sympathetic figure. It makes me curious about the real Captain Bligh, and how he differed from his portrayal in the films and novel. For this reason alone, although Bligh is the most despicable character, he’s also the most interesting.
Bottom line: It’s an intriguing story well told, and a great adventure. It’s also a fascinating study in loyalty and leadership.
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