“Mutiny On The Bounty” (1962)

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Co-stars: Trevor Howard, Dumbledore Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Tarita Tariipia, Percy Herbert, Duncan Lamont

Character1st Lt. Fletcher Christian

The sweeping epic that nearly sunk MGM and Brando’s career, it is in turns enthralling and exhausting. It is the fourth of five films telling the story of the Bounty, and other Fletcher Christian’s include Errol Flynn, Mel Gibson, and Clark Gable. This Mutiny on the Bounty is actually a remake of the Clark Gable film of the same name, with an entirely different characterization of Fletcher by Brando.

As the ship is boarding, we meet the main crew members that will be instrumental in the inevitable mutiny, including Seaman John Mills. Captain William Bligh boards, and he is quickly established as a hard ass. We also meet William Brown, the horticulturist in charge of overseeing the transport of the breadfruit to the slaves of Jamaica. He is an intellectual who wishes to assimilate himself with the other seamen, and receive no special treatment. Soon a highly ridiculous carriage is drawn close to the ship, and two pretty women exit it, followed by the 1st Lieutenant of the ship, Fletcher Christian. He is an aristocratic sort, with an effete accent and a ridiculous hat. Bligh and Christian’s first impressions of each other are not good, coming from different backgrounds and different sensibilities.

Soon after the ship sets sail, a seaman goes to Fletcher to report another man for stealing cheese. As Fletcher is listening to the man and the man accused, Captain Bligh walks past and overhears. Annoyed with Fletcher’s mediation methods, he orders the cheese to be half rationed until the amount lost is made up. Angry, the accused, John Mills, tells the other seamen that the Captain ordered him to steal the cheese for him. Unfortunately for him, the Captain and other officers of the ship overhear him, and he is told he is to be punished. The next scene shows the men on deck witnessing the punishment- 2 dozen lashes on the back. Fletcher is disgusted by the brutality of the punishment, and asks Bligh if this is the punishment for a minor infraction (nearly whipping a man to death), what will the punishment be for a major infraction? Bligh shares his philosophy on governing a ship:

Now don’t mistake me. I’m not advising cruelty or brutality with no purpose. My point is that cruelty with purpose is not cruelty – it’s efficiency. Then a man will never disobey once he’s watched his mate’s backbone laid bare. He’ll see the flesh jump, hear the whistle of the whip for the rest of his life.

The men keep their heads down, but Bligh grows increasingly brutal. A deeply ambitious man who hopes to impress the British Navy with his effectiveness, he changes the course of the ship from the safe Eastbound route to the dangerous westbound route currently entrenched in the middle of a cruel winter. The weather is a nightmare, and the men fight the treacherous winds for weeks. One incident sees a large barrel of water come loose below the deck of the ship. Fletcher and a group of men try to stop it from destroying the entire space, but in order to secure the thing they need the ship to go temporarily still. In his cabin, the Captain is sleeping. As the ship evens out, he wakes up, and storms to the deck, demanding to know what happened. When he finds out that Fletcher has ordered the ship to be steadied, he has them resume their path, Fletcher be damned. Down below, the men almost have the barrels secured, when the sudden movement causes a large barrel to lurch forward, crushing a man. Fletcher and the others try to remove it, but unable to, they have to crack the thing open and let the water out. The man has already died, much to the Captain’s antipathy, and Fletcher’s disgust.

Finally, the men arrive in Tahiti, where they are met with a joyous welcome from the locals, especially the scantily clad and sexually free women. Only Bligh doesn’t enjoy his time on the island, angry that they arrived during the breadfruit’s dormant period, meaning the Bounty had to stay in Tahiti for months until the breadfruit could be transported across the ocean. That Tahitians show good will by having sex, and there is much good will around the island. When the king’s daughter, Princess Maimiti, attempts to seduce Fletcher, he is caught in the bushes with her by Bligh, who orders him to stop for fear of the king’s reaction. The reaction is opposite: he is angry that his daughter is not good enough for a British officer, and so Bligh awkwardly orders a smug Fletcher Christian to show good will to the Princess.

Eventually the men have to leave the island, and they board the ship to set sail for Jamaica. Three men, including Mills, attempt to abandon the ship and stay in Tahiti forever. However, Fletcher and some other officers catch them, and they under the Captain’s orders, they are shackled in the basement whenever they are not on duty. Bligh is also angry that the expedition is behind schedule, so he takes out his hostilities on the crew. When Brown, the horticulturist, tells Bligh that many of the breadfruit plants will die to a shortage of a water, he is told to use all the water he need. In response, he rations the men’s drinking water in a highly elaborate fashion. One man with a fever, dies as he attempts to reach the water, plunging to his death. When this, a man from the ship attacks the Captain, attempting to strangle him. When he is pulled off, Bligh orders him to be keelhauled, an illegal practice, without a trial. No one tries to stop it, as they do not wish to cross Bligh.

As Bligh’s tyranny rages on, Fletcher’s disgust and distaste for him grows, egged on by Mills and other men on the ship. When a man is discovered to be drinking seawater, babbling incoherently and going mad, Fletcher appears to disappear below the deck. However, he soon returns with his own ladle from the officer’s water stores, and attempts to give the man some fresh water in order to save his life. Bligh sees this, and gives him an order to stop. Fletcher agrees, and then continues to give the man water anyways. When Bligh strikes Fletcher, he strikes back, and quickly rushes into the motions of a mutiny. He takes command of the ship, and after a nasty exchange of words, sends Bligh and the ship’s Loyalists on a boat to the closest island with the tools needed to get there. Believing he has done the right thing, he is understandably upset by his rash actions, for he has forever given up his Aristocratic lifestyle. The remaining mutineers head back to Tahiti to drop off some Loyalists who couldn’t fit in the boat, and to pick up some man power to operate the ship.

The film took approximately two years to complete, and the production ran way, way over budget, nearly bankrupting the studio. Much of the cost was blamed on Brando’s ego and behavior, although the entire crew had treated Tahiti as their playground. Allegedly at one point, a doctor had to be flown from America to treat many of the  men for gonorrhea, including Brando. The Bounty used in the film was actually the Bounty II, the first ship ever constructed for a film from original blueprints. When the film was released, it was met by mostly negative reviews, and was considered a financial failure, even though it was the 6th highest grossing film of 1962, due to the huge budget. Brando’s characterization of Fletcher Christian was also criticized, many people hating his ridiculous accent and his rather gay demeanor, especially in contrast to Clark Gable’s masculine portrayal of the same character. However, his genius is at work in the film, most notably when he insisted upon laying on bricks of ice for minutes at a time in order to accurately replicate the death tremors of a burn victim. It’s brilliant.

In the grand scheme of summer blockbusters, this is actually a pretty good one. It may have seemed like indulgent crap at the time, but it is the kind of indulgent crap that viewers are used to every summer. At least the film isn’t dated indulgent crap, and the big budget has made it age well visually (it’s getting a Blu-Ray release). The Bounty II was even used as an extra ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mindlessly entertaining, but the story flows. It wouldn’t have suffered a shorter run time though, clocking in around 3 hours. Thumbs up.

Quotes: “I believe I did what honour dictated and that belief sustains me, except for a slight desire to be dead which I’m sure will pass.”

“Well you’ve done rather well, Ned. Promoted to the rank of criminal. Not even 20 and a death sentence on your head. ”

“We need only persuade the British people of something they already know – that inhumanity is its poorest servant.”

“You remarkable pig. You can thank whatever pig god you pray to that you haven’t turned me into a murderer.”

“I assure you, sir, that the execution of my duties is entirely unaffected by my private opinion of you.”

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2 Responses to ““Mutiny On The Bounty” (1962)”

  1. August 14, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Brando took a lot of heat for this one! After it was over the studios spent the 1960s trying to get rid of him, I feel, which resulted in later films like The Nightcomers (he was “lent” out to director Michael Winner), and unfairly leaving the film with a terrible reputation. I was surprised when I first saw it. He has great comic timing and really delivers in the sarcastic verbal duels with Trevor Howard’s character. And the death scene, all that ice, ouch. It worked though.

    They say the entire cast and crew hated each other by the end of it all. Still, they came up with something good imho. At the very least watchable.

    Another memorable line: “Tahiti people say, ‘You eat life, or life eat you.'” 🙂

    • August 30, 2011 at 1:42 am

      Thanks for the feedback! You pointed out a lot of good things I must have missed while composing this long ass post. Ha.

      I definitely agree with you. He caught a lot of crap for this performance, but I thought it was pretty damn entertaining. The silly hats, the goofy accent, the dry sarcasm- makes me wonder if a certain Brando protege saw this film before embarking on his own Hollywood ship?

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