“He doesn’t punish men for discipline; he likes to see men crawl.”
When sadistic Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) mistreats his crew to the point of abuse and death, his first officer (Clark Gable) leads a mutiny despite the protests of Bligh’s loyal midshipman (Franchot Tone).
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “classic sea drama” about “a historical mutiny that took place in the 18th century on a British ship making a two-year voyage to retrieve breadfruit plants from Tahiti” still “holds up” well today. He argues that while the “film hasn’t the sense of adventure, eroticism, or psychological complexities of the 1962 remake with Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando… or the revisionist 1984 film, The Bounty, starring Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson”, it remains “the superior film”, and that “its power comes from neither Bligh nor Christian ever backing down from each other during an argument, even when the other has the upper hand.” In Alternate Oscars, however, Peary amends his assessment by noting it’s “too grouchy a picture”, given that “for two hours we see Laughton demean sailors and get away with it”; he asserts it’s not a film “you want to see every time [it turns] up at a repertory cinema or TV.” Meanwhile, he notes that while “Laughton’s Bligh is a villain for the ages, one of the most contemptuous figures in cinema history”, he believes “the role lets him down because it is without nuance — there is no way we can get into his head, no way to figure out if something in his past was responsible for his cruelty.”
I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s points. While Mutiny on the Bounty is an impressive production on nearly every count — from the on-location shooting to meticulous set design (both historical ships were recreated), expert editing, and fine performances — it is challenging to watch Bligh’s (fictionalized) behavior and then see him retaining loyalty from a reasonably large group of men, who are either deathly afraid of treason and/or believe his behavior is somehow justifiable. In addition, the film is a tad overlong, with too much time spent lingering on romantic dalliances in Tahiti (where the female characters aren’t given any dimensions other than beauty and loyalty). However, enough about this adventure-filled nautical movie remains powerful and well-crafted that it’s certainly worth a look by all film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh
- Clark Gable as Christian Fletcher
- Arthur Edeson’s cinematography
- Margaret Booth’s masterful editing
Yes, as an Oscar-winning classic.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)