During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
Sorry for the delay! Diane and I were busy last week with her sister’s birthday plans. We watched the movie on time, but I kept getting sidetracked from doing this write. Please don’t mutiny!
Speaking of which, last week’s movie was “Mutiny on the Bounty” from 1935 starring Clark Gable. More importantly, the movie featured Charles Laughton, an actor I have never heard of before, but who was more impressive than the entire rest of the cast. And – spoiler alert – I actually really enjoyed this movie.
“Mutiny on the Bounty” was based on a novel based on actual history. As such, it seems fairly removed from anything that may have actually happened. The story follows the shipmates of the HMS Bounty under the leadership – some may call it abuse – of Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) and Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable). What follows is easily the goriest and more disturbing of any movie we’ve seen thus far plus or minus some of the racism in previous films.
From the outset of the movie, when men in a tavern are compelled into the Navy to serve on the HMS Bounty, when they find they’ll be captained by Captain Bligh, they immediately try to escape. Bligh’s reputation as a tyrant far proceeds him and, as easily my favorite character in the whole movie, he lives up to it.
Captain Bligh is an effective heel because he doesn’t hold back. His first real introduction is in regards to a man who has been held prisoner for “punching his captain”. Bligh calls the entire ship on deck to witness the prisoner being flogged for his discretion. When the taskmaster announces he is dead from the inhumane treatment he received even before being whipped, Captain Bligh commands the flogging proceed since that’s the punishment he has already decreed for the man, dead or alive.
Captain Bligh also has a great line when one of his men speak out of line against him and he asks another man to rat him out. He refuses to rat out his friend, but before Captain Bligh has him flogged in place of whomever may of spoke, the man who did speak against him came forward so his friend wouldn’t be beat in his place. Captain Bligh has him whipped and he has the friend whipped as well since, “When I ask questions, I expect answers.”
Charles Laughton’s performance is outstanding. His face emits glowing rays of hatred at all times. He scowls and scorns his way through the entire movie. Even after a large portion of his crew mutinies and casts him and those loyal to him off in a small sail boat, he refuses to allow his only comeuppance in the movie to change his expression. Even as they are set adrift, Bligh dares the sea to swallow him up with just a look.
The rest of the movie’s characters were okay. Clark Gable plays the handsome good guy, but I felt like there was a disconnect between his beginning the mutiny and everything leading up to it. Sure, he tries to stick up for the men under Captain Bligh’s horrifying punishments, but he doesn’t really snap until after Captain Bligh accuses him of stealing coconuts.
The morality of the mutinying is also undercut by Roger Byam, a blue blood sailing newbie who disagrees with Captain Bligh’s practices, but wants to follow the captain’s orders at sea and would likely try and bring charges against him once they return to England. Think a Lawful Good character in D&D. He ends up getting stuck on the HMS Bounty with the mutineers and lives in Tahiti with Fletcher Christian and the others somewhat against his will.
Speaking of Tahiti, I loved the depiction. I imagine it wasn’t very accurate, but there wasn’t any “these people are stupid savages”. If anything, the movie leaned too hard on the ‘noble savage’ trope since the island was idyllic and peaceful. The movie also featured two female love interests for Christian and Byam to marry. Diane and I could thought one of the women was a straight up white girl, but it turns out she was Hawaiian born and the other actress was Mexican-American. Even if they had no character development and did little more than titillate, it was nice to see some women of color in a prominent role.
Our biggest downside for “Mutiny on the Bounty” was its run time. At 132 minutes, much of the Tahiti stuff could’ve been cut or streamlined. They also spend a ton of time on Captain Bligh’s miracle return to civilization after being left at sea which felt unnecessary. The movie ends with a few days of court proceedings as well, which seem to drag on, especially when compared to the bigger action sequences earlier in the film that still hold up well.
“Mutiny …” also ends with a “happy ending”. Byam lives, despite being found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to die, but he is saved because his family is rich and can get an audience with the king. His fellow shipmates, all of which were destitute to begin with, are executed. Yay for rich white people?
“Mutiny on the Bounty” is still a good film and my personal favorite of this series thus far. I edge out “Cimarron” if only because Charles Laughton’s performance as Captain Bligh was so memorable for me. Whereas most pirate/naval movies tell you their Captain is a grizzled bad ass, Captain Bligh looks like he could chew you up, spit you out, and still have time to munch on a cheese wheel he stole. With everything else still holding up (give or take a script that overstays its welcome), I’d say give this one a shot.