Wednesday, May 28, 2014
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)
(November 1935, U.S.)
The story behind MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY has been seemingly told and repeated in so many forms of literature, pop culture and folklore, that it's almost very easy to remember that it's primarily based on real incidents that took place aboard the real ship the Bounty in 1789. I can recall my first exposure to the story in some form or another by a satirical reference in an episode of The Flintstones, and long before I'd ever see this stunning black and white classic version of the original novel, I recall seeing bits and pieces of the 1981 film THE BOUNTY on HBO. Although its historical accuracy has been questioned (inevitable as it's based on a novel about the facts and not the facts themselves), film critics generally consider this adaptation to be the best cinematic work inspired by the real life mutiny.
At its heart, the film's story of the mutiny aboard a British naval ship also dives deep into the dignity and tolerance of men against the vicious cruelty of one man's dictatorship; namely the ship's captain William Bligh (played superbly by Charles Laughton). The true irony, however, is that all of Bligh's actions against the men under his command are perfectly legal and permissible by the English law of the sea at the time. If one were to research the facts and take them to heart, it was this particular mutiny aboard the Bounty that inevitable lead to a better understanding and level of respect between those who sailed these great ships and those who commanded them. For the viewer of this 1935 film, the harshness and cruelty displayed against these men seems unbelievably intolerable. One can only wonder why it takes as long as it does for the film's main protagonist Fletcher Christian (played by Clark Gable with his shirt off throughout most of the film - take note, ladies!) to form the inevitable uprising against not only Bligh but the entire system of cruel naval discipline that has claimed too many lives and too much of man's spirit. Despite committing an act of treason, Mr. Christian does retain a level of humanity and refuses to allow any more bloodshed by seeing Bligh killed. Bligh and his supportive commanders are instead cast adrift to survive on their own against the madness of the sea. What once began as the dutiful rights of a captain's privilege have now become a personal vendetta for Bligh as he vows to find Mr. Christian and see him hanged from the highest yardarm. It doesn't happen, though, and Bligh's greatest defeat is not only Mr. Christian's freedom but a change in the ripple of naval law and what it means to be a free-spirited man and perhaps a proper Englishman.
Seriously, though, watch this film and tell me that despite the fact that the film is dated for its era, you don't watch and listen to a horribly disgusting little man like Captain Bligh and think to yourself, "What an asshole!"
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY won the Oscar for best picture of 1935.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain William Bligh: "Mr Byam, if you were loyal when Christian escaped, I should have found you DEAD!"