09 May 2009
Thoughts on the Bounty
Tonight's essential on Turner Classics Movie -- also known as the greatest TV station in the world, ever -- was the original Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). A helluva picture.
I've read about the real mutiny and I can tell you that the film is wildly inaccurate. I can add to that statement these two words: so what.
Sometimes sticking to the facts of a story are important and other times they're not. With a rollicking adventure film from the heart of Hollywood's Golden Age, it isn't such a big deal. In the case of a film like Milk (2008) about a man and incidents fresh in many people's memory, its critical. Once something has faded deep into history, accuracy is less important. One also tends to be more forgiving of older films.
Be that as it may the film is damn good one. Essentials co host and TCM God Robert Osborne quite correctly gave kudos to the set designers, special effects crew and cinema photographers for creating a superbly realistic looking film. Without benefit of a single computer. While modern audiences quite naturally marvel at today's special effects it is all the more remarkable what was done 70 plus years ago. In Bounty the scenes of the ship in storms were particularly effective.
All three stars were nominated for Best Actor, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. Laughton is recognized as one of our greatest actors so his nomination is no surprise. His performance as Captain Bligh is stylized, eccentric and wonderful without going over the top. What's surprising is the strength of Gable's and Tone's performances. Gable in particular is remembered more as a star than as an actor. It may seem he mugged his way through a lot of films but that's because he had a film persona that worked. He gave excellent performances in many movies from the menacing chauffeur in Night Nurse (1931) to the has been cowboy in The Misfits (1961) with Mutiny and others in between.
Gable could do emotion and was fine as the passionate, principled and temperamental Fletcher Christian. Tone was a revelation too. More familiar to audiences as the tippling raconteur in such films as Midnight Mary (1933), he gave depth to the role of the midshipman Byam, caught between the towering figures of Blight and Christian.
The story itself is a powerful one. Shipboard mutinies are surprisingly rare. They of course could have deadly consequences to the disposed or the mutineers or even both. In the case of the Bounty there was a clash of two intractable wills, compelling theater in and of itself. When the fate of so many crewmen are in the balance the story veritably writes itself.
Issues of loyalty, fealty to crown and contract and conflicting views of common human decency further complicate and fascinate. In truth the movie is harsh to Bligh who was not nearly so demonic as he's made out to be. Fortunately they gave deserved credit to Bligh for his incredible feat of successfully navigating his boat to safety once cast adrift after the mutiny.
Frank Lloyd directed and if you just said"who?" I understand perfectly. He didn't have a whole lot else of significance to his credit but sure did a terrific job here.
The essentials intros and wrap ups by Osborne and co host Alec Baldwin are not to be missed. As a veteran actor and good storyteller Baldwin brings a unique perspective. Plus, like Osborne he absolutely loves movies and loves talking about them.
An entertaining evening. If you want the real story of the Bounty this is not it. What a film like this can do is inspire people to read the real story. Good books on the mutiny abound and if you've no time or inclination for that you can always check out the Internet. I hear its got a lot of stuff on it. some of it is even factual.