Mutiny on the Bounty

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

After “It Happened One Night” swept the Oscars (the 5 major categories) with Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay; it was hard for Clark Gable to top what he had accomplished the year before. However, with “Mutiny on the Bounty”, he and Charles Laughton brought the classic novel to screen in grand form. The movie was a vast undertaking at the time, compared to modern-day films like “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, costing upwards of 2 million dollars. Now that figure might seem nominal as compared the inflated budgets of today’s movies, but consider that this was 70 years ago and “talkies” had only been around for a few years. “Mutiny on the Bounty” was Director Frank Lloyd’s ship to captain and that he did. Though there have been about as many retelling’s of this story as the O.K. Corral, this remains the definitive version. Laughton was in top form as his ruthless Captain Bligh and Gable was even required to shave his trademark mustache (British Naval Officers weren’t allowed to wear them at the time) for the part. Combine historical accuracy with a huge budget and a major studio (MGM) and the film was bound to deliver. It did. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won only one, though it was the highest honor, Best Picture. Laughton, Gable and Franchot Tone were nominated for Best Actor, however none of them won and the honor went to Victor McLaglen for “The Informer”. All of that aside, the film remains one of the early triumphs of cinema and stands as a classic not to be missed. But for those who don’t know the entire story…

The story of “Mutiny on the Bounty” is that of fact and not fiction. The incidents really did happen, though it’s quite possible and probable that history has distorted the facts and most assuredly Hollywood took a few liberties with the plot and characters. The HMS Bounty is the ship commanded by Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton). It’s First Officer is Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), more likeable to the crew and more of the people’s man. The mission is quite simple, they are to sail from England to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit plants. This seems simple enough, but trouble starts to arise when the merciless Capt. Bligh enforces his brand of punishment. The usual punishment for most anything was lashings, and after the crew witnesses a dead man lashed (as punishment), they begin to lose faith in their fearless leader. Bligh’s punishments always exceeded the crime and it’s with these senseless acts that the men look toward Christian as their leader. Once the crew reaches Tahiti, the find an island paradise filled with warm weather and beautiful women. Christian and Midshipmen Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) form relations with the local women and find it hard to leave once the Bounty has to head back to England. Bligh’s actions don’t change and it’s not long before the crew decides to mutiny and send Bligh and his loyal staff of 18 out to sea, presumably to their deaths. Bligh would find a redemption in the sea as all odds opposed him, he makes his way back to England (some 3,500 miles away) only to get another ship. He and his crew are intent on finding and punishing the mutineers.

The phrase “They don’t make them like they used to” certainly rings true here. While we’ve seen bigger budget movies come and go, this movie was one of the first to be a true “Big Hollywood Production”. Compared to more recent films like “Titanic” and “Master and Commander”, we can see that the filmmakers undoubtedly drew from this film (and its successors) and while the newer movies might have an edge technically, it’s hard to beat the original. The American Film Institute selected this as one of their “Top 100 of All Time” and while I’m not certain that the movie is that good, it’s a testament to those in the film community who think it is. Bligh was also recently voted as one of the greatest villains in movie history, too. Gable would never win another Oscar, though the role he’s most commonly associated with is “Gone With the Wind” and his nomination here is well-deserved. “Mutiny on the Bounty” is a classic for many reasons; it’s not only a great adaptation of the novel, but also a great movie experience. Some say it hasn’t aged that well, but for my money, this is one of the better, older, action movies. For those who have seen the remakes, but not the original, then your wait is up as the film has now graced DVD.

Video: How does it look?

Oddly enough, the screen shots on the back of the box show two scenes from the movie, but both are in color! Let me assure you that this is the original Black and White version of the movie and not some colorized later version. That being said, the film is shown in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. For a movie of this age, I was pretty surprised when I saw the quality. Though there are spots when noticeable artifacting takes place, but for the most part it has a very clear look to it, certainly not representative of the time period. The black levels are deep and rich, with the overall picture being sharp and clean. This is the first incarnation of the movie on DVD, so we’ve nothing to compare it to, but rest assured this looks better than it ever has on home video and possibly even better than the day it was made. A superb effort by Warner.

Audio: How does it sound?

One of the benefits of having a big budget is that more attention gets paid to sound. While “Mutiny on the Bounty” won’t light up your home theater system, I was certainly impressed by what I did hear. Creaks in the wood of the boat, chains jingling and the well-reproduced dialogue sounded crisp and clean. The Dolby mono mix can only reproduce so much, mind you, but for the age of the film I was expecting a lot worse. The score sounds rich and not dated at all. While this would be a different story if the movie were made today, the soundtrack for the film is something that really exceeded my expectations. Another top notch effort here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Warner, a studio that is setting the standard for their more popular catalog titles with their Two-Disc Special Editions, hasn’t done that here. This is a single disc with only a few supplements. Included is a vintage documentary “Pitcairn Island Today” which focuses on the island that the crew eventually settled down. They show how the people live there without technology and how they make it from day to day. Narrated like a newsreel, this certainly delivers what it promises. Next up is an Academy Award Newsreel, which is essentially Frank Capra handing the award for Best Picture to Frank Lloyd and his ten second “Thank You” speech. Lastly, there are trailers for this and the 1962 remake starring Marlon Brando. While I’m uncertain why there wasn’t more supplements here, there might have been legal reasons. Still, Warner has re-issued many of it’s Best Picture movies as deluxe editions, so there might be a hope that this will get the “Special Edition” treatment some day soon. For the time being though, the picture and sound are more than acceptable for this classic film.

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