Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty; adventure drama, USA, 1935; D: Frank Lloyd, S: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Donald Crisp, Movita Castenada, Mamo Clark, Bill Bambridge

Portsmouth, England, 1787. Dozens of men are forcibly drafted into the Royal Navy, on board the ship Bounty which sets its course towards the Pacific Ocean for a planned two year voyage. However, the ship is commanded by captain Bligh, a tyrant who refuses to give crew enough food, and punishes anyone who complains by whipping. This is observed by lieutenant Fletcher Christian and midshipman Byam. The ship arrives at Tahiti where the crew meets the locals and their women, but also picks up breadfruit for their mission. On their way back, Bligh refuses to give water to his crew to have enough for the plants, which sparks a mutiny led by Fletcher who banishes Bligh and his loyal servants on a boat. Bligh, however, manages to reach land after 50 days on the sea. He returns to Tahiti, but Fletcher and the Bounty escape on another island. Byam and some other men are arrested and sent to a trial in England.

A somewhat historically inaccurate, but ambitious and quality adaptation of the famous mutiny on the Bounty, this film still holds up fairly well by offering some timeless themes about human integrity as well as the clash between common sense and blind obedience to the law. It managed to give a realistic depiction of the sailors who are trapped on the ship ruled by the infamous captain Bligh, who uses his authority as a prosthesis for his endless ego and low self-esteem: already in the opening shots, the crew is given a glimpse inside Bligh's character when he finds out that one accused man has died, yet still orders that his corpse must be whipped and punished, nonetheless. He also states: "A midshipman is the lowest form of animal life in the Royal Navy". Order details are presented during the course of the story, including low quality food for the crew (one sailor jokes that his "meat was mined in a rock quarry" while another one is so hungry that he even eats a bait from a hook intended to catch fish), and all contribute to a bigger picture of a multi-layered character study, involving not only Bligh, but also his officer, Fletcher, which makes it clear as to why he would rebel against his rule. Charles Laughton is excellent as the utterly unsympathetic Bligh, as is Clark Gable as the voice of his opposition. "Mutiny on the Bounty" is a very good film, but with time still failed to achieve that desired status of a classic: the middle-part of the film, playing out on Tahiti, offers a corny, cheesy love story that suits a soap opera more; the ending is somewhat unsatisfactory and incomplete whereas Frank Lloyd is not an auteur, but more of a standard director who is only as good as his script allows him to, yet fails to truly rise to the occasion on some other artistic fronts. "Bounty" is also mentioned in film lexicons for two interesting facts: it was awarded only one Oscar, the one for Best Picture, and thus remained the last film that won Best Picture without winning in any other category. Also, it formed a lucky streak for Clark Gable, who hereby became the only actor who starred in three Best Picture films in only one decade (the other two being "It Happened One Night" and "Gone With the Wind").


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