When starting this project of watching all of the Academy Award winners for Best Picture, in order, there were a few, early on, that I wasn’t looking forward to. I thought they would be a bore, quite frankly. I thought the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty would be one of those. When I saw that the film was directed by Frank Lloyd, the director of Cavalcade (1933), I was even more certain. I am so glad that I was wrong. Mutiny on the Bounty was an arresting, tense, and visceral exploration of power and redemption. Starring Clark Gable, a year after his Oscar-winning turn in It Happened One Night, and the stunning Charles Laughton as the infamous Captain Bligh, the story of the HMS Bounty is a compelling one.
Based on the true story of the ship’s 1787 voyage to Tahiti, audiences come to sympathize with the crew of crooks, as Captain Bligh thinks of them. Fletcher Christian’s frustration with Bligh runs high throughout most of the film, finally reaching the point of no return when he commands those under him to mutiny and put Bligh and his devotees on a glorified row-boat, to tame the oceans of Southeast Asia. In a testament to his skill as a sailor, Bligh makes his way back to England and quickly proceeds to return to sea to find Christian. Nearly being found by Bligh, Christian shows his prowess as a sailor, as well, and manages to escape from Bligh, never to be captured or prosecuted for his mutinous behavior. Mutiny on the Bounty is such a robust story of action and adventure, it’s no wonder it has been remade several times, with stars like Marlon Brando, Mel Gibson, and Russell Crowe. As is usually the case, the original deserves viewing and judgment for the standard against which the others must compete.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) 132 minutes. Directed by Frank Lloyd. Starring Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, Eddie Quillan.