Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)

I think everyone knows the plot on this one, but a quickie version is as follows. The HMS Bounty, is on a mission first to Tahiti and then on to the West Indies. The ship is led by a stubborn and tough Captain by the name of Bligh (Charles Laughton) that demands discipline and wields punishment as often as most people change pants. After stopping in Tahiti for a few months, the sailors begin to get restless when they set sail once again and decide to take the ship, led by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable). Hence the name "Mutiny on the Bounty".

Gable and the Old Toad

I really liked Gable's performance in this and thought he deserved the Oscar that year. Apparently he lost to Victor McLaglen in "The Informer", which I have not seen, so hopefully McLaglen deserved to beat Gable out. One of the reasons I loved Gable's performance early on in the movie was how he seemed to always show contempt for Bligh, even through a smile. Gable was such a smooth operator in this, always showing the right amount of restraint or passion, depending upon what the scene called for. Just, a really well done performance.

Charles Laughton did a good job with the infamous Captain Bligh too. This isn't a historically accurate historic epic (say that three times really fast), but I think of movies as novels instead of non-fiction anyway, so that isn't terribly important to me. I thought Laughton's performance was interesting because he made him a dichotomous Blight. On the ship, he was a harsh task master. However, when he was cast out on the ocean with his loyal men, he toned the harshness way down and showed him in a more humane light. I have to say though, when I first saw Laughton on screen, I laughed. He really reminded me of a puffed up old toad with those lips sticking out and the weird hunched over stance of his. Also, I thought he looked a bit like a young and much more surly, John Candy. That made me laugh too.

I have to share some of my favorite dialogue which occurred in the opening of the movie. A young ensign reported to duty and upon seeing the ship asks, "That's the Bounty for Tahiti? She isn't very big is she?" An older gentleman replies, "It ain't the size that counts, youngster. It's the salt in the lads that man it." Well said. :-)

Also, I have to pick on one part of the movie too. I know it was 1935, but still, they had a budget of $2 million for this picture so I still think it fair to pick on this. At one point during the voyage, they toss a man overboard with a rope tied around his waist, for punishment. (Glad my parents never thought of that) Anyway, they show the man underwater, hitting his head I think and being dragged along. The underwater shot looks like, I kid you not, a Ken doll (of Ken and Barbie fame) being dragged along the water of an aquarium with a toy boat floating above him. I know, I know, it was 1935. But the shot looked horrible. Why even have the shot in the movie? Just skip it and show them pulling the man up - you would lose nothing other than the giggles.

Another weird thing for me was the almost constant use of extreme close-up on the actor's faces. I understand a close-up can be quite effective in certain scenes, but if you use it constantly, it loses it's impact. I don't know if this was the director's style or what, but I have to admit that I thought it was way over used by the end.

Also, I was reading on about the film and I ran across a lot of interesting trivia that I couldn't help share. I stress that I have no idea if these are fact or fiction, but I wanted to toss them out anyway.

  • MGM wanted Cary Grant to play Byam (the young ensign), but Grant was under contract to Paramount, which refused to release him.

  • Franchot Tone's role was originally intended for Robert Montgomery.

  • This won an Oscar for Best Picture, but won no other Oscars.

  • Actor James Cagney was sailing his boat off of Catalina Island, California, and passed the area where the film's crew was shooting aboard the Bounty replica. Cagney called to director Frank Lloyd, an old friend, and said that he was on vacation and could use a couple of bucks, and asked if Lloyd had any work for him. Lloyd put him into a sailor's uniform, and Cagney spent the rest of the day as an extra playing a sailor aboard the Bounty.

  • Clark Gable had to shave off his trademark mustache for this film for historical accuracy. Mustaches were not allowed in the Royal Navy during the time the story takes place.

  • In order to break the ice before shooting, Clark Gable, apparently unaware of co-star Charles Laughton's homosexuality, took him to a brothel. Laughton's wife Elsa Lanchester always said that Laughton was nevertheless "flattered" by this gesture.

  • Clark Gable initially felt he was badly miscast as an English naval lieutenant in an historical epic. However, he later said he believed this was the best movie he had starred in.
I definitely recommend this one. So does AFI who put it on it's top 100 list and so does just about everyone. It is a great historic adventure epic. It has some weird quirks (like the close-ups) and some minor plot holes that aren't important to go into, but still, definitely worth watching when you are ready for an interesting adventure flick.


kda0121 said...

Mutiny on the Bounty is one of my favorite Gable pictures, although if I were put on the Bounty, I probably would be like Byam and not have been a part of the mutiny. It's easy to watch a movie and cheer for Fletcher, but it's quite another thing to take up arms against your ship and country in real life.

That being said, it IS a rousing adventure yarn and YES I was cheering Fletcher and jeering Bligh. Laughton played the sadistic captain to perfection. One of the reasons that Bounty didn't win any acting Oscars was because all three stars, Gable Laughton and Tone were nominated for best actor. Their votes canceled each other out and McLaglen won for The Informer, which was a really fine perfomance.

AbbyNormal said...

Karl - I have to ask, what was with all the close-ups? Have you ever noticed that and was that the directorial style or just something they were trying out?

kda0121 said...

I haven't watched the movie in a while, so I don't recall all the close ups, but it was undoubtedly director Frank Lloyd's way of establishing the tension and claustrophobic nature of being stuck on a small ship with a sadistic captain.

AbbyNormal said...

I like the idea of using the close-ups as a device to portray the close quarters and claustrophobic nature of being on the small ship. I knew there had to be a good reason for them, but didn't come up with that as a theory. Sounds like a plausible reason to me - good one Karl :-)