‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was one of the most pleasant surprises for me when I watched the Best Pictures. I imagined a gung-ho adventure film with over acting and silly stereotypes. Instead I got a intelligent character study.
The premise is straightforward. Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) is the captain of a ship travelling from England to Tahiti. As the journey gets harder and harder he becomes more and more ruthless and his methods of maintaining discipline are brutal. On the return journey first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) revolts against the captain. The crew, however, do not account for the captains return. The film also stars Franchot Tone as the midshipman Byam: torn between loyalty to the captain and his belief in what is right.
The film moves along at a pleasing rate. There is snappy dialogue that enables the scenes to move on quickly and efficiently. The film never gets dragged down with lengthy fight scenes and the viewers are never taken down a sub-plot with no relevance. It is a well constructed film. Admittedly the cinematography now looks dated, but it does not take away from the overall impact of the film, and the fantastic score really helps to add to the overall exciting impact of the experience.
But the film is a triumph for the acting. It is the only film in the history of the Oscars to receive three nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (although this was before the days of the Best Supporting Actor award), and all the nominations are worthy. Tone plays the man in the middle of the two factions and does a perfect show of a character split between his moral views. His part is the hardest due to this split conscious, but he does an excellent job of it.
Clark Gable proves himself as the leading man of the 1930s with his portrayal as the ‘hero’, but due to the clever positioning of Tone’s character, we, as the audience are not sure is we are fully behind Gable’s first mate. Gable clearly relishes playing this role and he makes the part more than just another dull swashbuckling hero.
It is, however, Laughton that makes the biggest impact. From ruthless villain to loser in battle to his comeback and return to England, he plays them all with conviction, and is watchable throughout. In the way that Gable’s character is not quite the hero, Laughton makes the captain not quite the tyrant that he could have been. Instead we see a complex character: a captain with difficulties in keeping control over his crew.
In brief, I found ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ to be a thoroughly enjoyable film about character development with some excellent performances, and even if the production and storyline were slightly dated it is still one of the best sea adventure films that I have ever seen.