Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Based on the book Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall
Screenplay by Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson
Starring: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Eddie Quillan, Donald Crisp, Franchot Tone
A sea-captain (Laughton) is left at sea when his abusive methods alienate his crew. Now he’s looking to exact revenge against the men he believes are responsible.
This film is the third of five feature film adaptations of Mutiny on the Bounty, the novel written by Charles Nordhoff (Passage to Marseille) and James Norman Hall (Botany Bay). The screenplay was written by Talbot Jennings (Knights of the Round Table), Jules Furthman (The Big Sleep), and Carey Wilson (The Postman Always Rings Twice). The film was directed by Frank Lloyd (Cavalcade), earning him a nomination for Best Director. The stars of this one include Charles Laughton (Witness for the Prosecution), Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind), Eddie Quillan (The Grapes of Wrath), Donald Crisp (Jezebel), and Franchot Tone (I Love Trouble). This film was a critical and commercial success, and went on to earn 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Director. It would take home the award for Best Picture.
This is a film that defies expectations by staying away from the stereotypical approach to films about men at sea. Instead of becoming a swashbuckling tale of adventure, this is a story about adversity and hardship among real people. This one immediately sets the tone by letting the audience see how the class system works for the men of The Bounty. The differing backgrounds and motivations for being aboard the ship add an important layer to the interactions of the characters.
This one also has one of the great antagonists in movie history. The character of Captain Bligh might be one of the best written adversaries of his kind. The story does a great job of showing how quickly an uncomfortable situation can turn into a dangerous one. It also does a good job of showing what men will do when they’re pushed into a corner. The characters throughout the movie are nicely written, and mostly avoid any awkward stereotypes. The same is true of the dialogue, most of which holds up really well. The twists and turns of this story are all nicely planned, leading to a great conclusion. It’s obvious why this earned Furthman, Jennings, and Wilson the nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay.
The actors really capitalized on the emotional content of the script. Charles Laughton and Clark Gable lead the way with great performances that couldn’t be more different. Laughton was perfectly cast in this one as the stubborn and overbearing Captain Bligh. He did a wonderful job of crafting a gritty and unrelenting performance that brings out the worst in his character. Laughton did all of this while maintaining the idea that his character sees nothing wrong with his approach. Gable, on the other hand, did a great job playing a man conflicted between his duty and defending the men he works with. Together, these performances create a fantastic contrast that pays off throughout the film.
Eddie Quillan, Donald Crisp, and Franchot Tone are just three more of the many talented actors who brought this one to life. Their performances each have unique personality, adding depth to the movie. The entire cast did a great job of giving the era of the story a sense of authenticity that it deserved. Gable and Laughton were definitely blessed to have so many talented people around them. They were both nominated for Best Actor. Franchot Tone was also recognized for his work with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
This film features some incredible cinematography at sea. Much of the production was filmed off the coast of California, including Monterey Bay, Santa Barbara Channel, and South Beach Harbor. The crew used the Commodore II, a retired British ship for much of the production. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson (Casablanca) did a wonderful job taking advantage of the locations, the ship, and the sets to create authentic visuals. The sound work also pays off throughout this one. Overall, there isn’t a lot of criticism that can’t be attributed to the limits of technology. The movie would go on to earn nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Music, Score.
This is a fantastic movie that tells a wonderful story. The performances are great, and the production work does a great job bringing it all together. There have been many movies about the sea, but there hasn’t been another movie quite like this one. If you’re a fan of drama, this is one to see. I would also suggest this to fans of the stars who brought it to life. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.