Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935): Dir. Frank Lloyd. Written by: Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, and Carey Wilson. Based upon the novel of the same name by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Starring: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin, and Eddie Quillan. Unrated. Running time: 132 minutes.
Rip-roaring, star-studded, and ripe with melodrama, Mutiny might be called the forerunner to the Hollywood blockbuster, finally cemented by Jaws in 1975. The appeal of high-seas adventure and naval intrigue has carried on to this day—Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise probably never would have existed without this film (for better or for worse).
Starring a mustache-less Clark Gable and the jowly Charles Laughton, the film observes a fairly routine British naval mission, in which the H.M.S. Bounty must transport breadfruit trees from Trinidad to the West Indies. Captain Bligh (Laughton) rules his ship with an iron fist (and more often than not, with the lash). Initially loyal to his captain, first mate Fletcher Christian (Gable) eventually leads a rebellion against his superior when he sees that Bligh is effectively starving his men at no expense to himself.
From the start, Mutiny promises high-spirited adventure, right down to the historically accurate construction of the naval ships themselves. Director Frank Lloyd, who directed the much less exciting Cavalcade, keeps things moving at a brisk pace—making the terrors experienced by the crew palpable but not unwatchable. Even as the film attempts to take itself more seriously than it should (with more than a nod to Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin), Lloyd invests us enough in the characters to hold our attention.
The film also benefits from its principal actors. While Gable doesn’t even attempt a British accent, he has such personality and charisma that we forget all about it. Laughton’s performance is legendary—he sneers and grimaces with such relish that we believe he wants his crew to disobey him, just so he can feel the satisfaction of dominance and control.
A box-office smash in its day, Mutiny comes recommended as a fine example of pure Hollywood entertainment—and that’s not always a bad thing.
Next film: The Great Ziegfeld, 1936