Mutiny on the Bounty
Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson (Novel: Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall)
Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Dudley Diggs, Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, Francis Lister, Spring Byington, Movita
Approved (PCA #1531)
A cruel, heartless captain, blind to his own callousness, brings about his own demise in the classic nautical drama Mutiny on the Bounty.
The case of the HMS Bounty brought a significant change inmaritime law regarding the treatment of the crew aboard all British vessels. Captain William Blight (Charles Laughton) would deny rations, whip ill-behaved men and otherwise foment ill will with the crew of his vessel on its laborious journey to Tahiti. His first mate, a passionate and conscientious man, Lt. Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) objected to Bligh’s barbarity but did nothing until he felt he could no longer object.
Camaraderie often blossoms between men on long sea voyages and that’s what occurs between Christian and Midshipman Roger Byam. They suffer through the captain’s malicious orders, at times becoming targets themselves. When they arrive on the paradisiacal isle of Tahiti, they find women with whom they could spend the rest of their lives.
After days of preparing and loading the ship with the precious cargo of breadfruit plants for which they were sent, Captain Bligh firmly orders the crew to embark on their journey home, despite many having found a peaceful existence. Not long after returning to the ocean, Bligh’s old ways surface and the crew has finally had enough. Inciting the crew to mutiny, Christian puts Bligh and his only supporters into dinghies and sets them adrift on the ocean. They head back to Tahiti hoping that the small boat will be the end of the ambitious captain. A happy ending they would not receive as Bligh manages to make it back to civilization and comes after his mutinous crew with a vengeance not to be easily abated.
Laughton puts in one of his finest performances as the villainous captain. His haughty carriage never falters even when set adrift and with survival against odds. Laughton’s talent gives you moments when you might almost pity him. He was brought up to treat his inferiors that way and that is obvious from his actions. He doesn’t know any other way but his inability, or possibly refusal, to change is what sets him apart from the film’s protagonist.
Despite knowing the proper protocol but being motivated by the needs of the crew, Fletcher Christian is a sympathetic and passionate character. Clark Gable gives the character a rough edge, a characteristic of his performances. We know his limitations yet he works hard to push his own heroic nature aside. The story helps that.
It’s not until after he’s forced to leave his beautiful wife(Spring Byington) that Christian finally decides to lash out against Bligh. We already know he has a sensitive side from his calming discussions and actions prior to the scenes in Tahiti but as any other man, his arrogance and selfishness finally surface after they depart.
Only Byam remains the pinnacle of selflessness. He never wants to leave Christian’s side even though he’d be giving up a great deal by doing so. Tone’s ability to convey pride and resoluteness help you understand his character as the real hero of the story. Even when faced with certain death for betraying his captain, Byam remains steadfast and holds his ground. He never betrays himself or his principles.
Mutiny on the Bounty does a great job portraying a dark time in British naval history. Throughout the voyage we learn a great deal about human behavior and the lengths men will go to protect themselves. What kind of men would act as Bligh did? They are insecure and incapable of understand what it’s like to be deemed inferior. It’s a recurring theme of history. Rebellion against those that keep us from achieving our full potential is a part of life. We can learn a great deal from what the men on the Bounty did. If we allow others to do harm to us or to our way of life, we must save ourselves. We must declare mutiny against our oppressors and fight to right the injustices they inflict upon us.
The 1935 film version of Mutiny on the Bounty which also won the award for Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still resonates today. Those in power often abuse, even if surreptitiously, those who are beneath them. The film serves as a reminder that only through courage, action and perseverance can revolution achieve its goals.
October 9, 2006