“Captain Bligh, you’ve told your story of mutiny on the Bounty, how men plotted against you, seized your ship, cast you adrift in an open boat, a great venture in science brought to nothing, two British ships lost. But there’s another story, Captain Bligh, of ten cocoanuts and two cheeses. A story of a man who robbed his seamen, cursed them, flogged them, not to punish but to break their spirit. A story of greed and tyranny, and of anger against it, of what it cost.”
‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, directed by Frank Lloyd in 1935, is an American historical drama. Clark Gable plays Fletcher Christian, a lieutenant on a ship bound for the South Seas. Christian is compassionate and frequently at odds with the brutal captaincy of William Bligh, played by Charles Laughton. Conditions on the ship deteriorate when Bligh picks up breadfruit plants to take to the West Indies and ends up sacrificing the ships water ration to keep them alive. Christian leads a contingent of men to take over the ship and forces Bligh and his supporters onto a small boat and sets them adrift. Bligh survives, however, and comes in pursuit of his lost ship and its mutinous crew. It’s an early telling of the story and one that firmly sides on the mutineers and Christian. By casting Gable and focusing entirely on his sympathies for the crew and his bravery, the film makes a strong statement about dictatorial control and cruelty. This is enhanced by the feeling of it being a subtextual narration of the conflict between libertarian, democratic America (represented by Gable) and the despotic British empire (represented by Laughton). The film is lavish, action packed and surprisingly not devoid of humour – the ship’s crew is an eccentric one with each character built his own personality which makes the mutiny all the more affecting. Laughton is great as the weasely and dangerously unstable Bligh, whilst Gable, without his moustache, is bland, but serves his purpose as the heroic lead.
Would I recommend it? It’s a swashbuckling epic with a political core. Watch in a double bill with the more nuanced and lyrical ‘Master and Commander’.