Monday, December 13, 2010

Mutiny on the Bounty

Initially Published Here

The very definition of what Manny Farber termed “White Elephant Art,” Mutiny on the Bounty was the prestige film of 1935 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It stars Clark Gable, one year after his breakthrough leading man role in It Happened One Night, as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton, at his scenery chewing best, as the villainous Captain Bligh. Also along for the voyage is Franchot Tone as Midshipmen Byam who gets to play the middle against Gable’s “gone native” Christian and Laughton’s cruel Captain. Interesting footnote -- all three actors received Best Actor nominations for their performances. It wasn’t until the following year that the “Supporting Actor” category was created to avoid just such problematic issues.

As directed by journeyman Frank Lloyd, the film holds up well as a ripping yarn filled with high seas adventure. It’s considerably less interesting as an examination of the treatment of sailors by His Royal Majesty’s Navy. Tone is given a painfully earnest speech towards the end of the film imploring that men be motivated by kindness and reward rather than punishment and how the Navy could “sweep the seas for England” if only they could all be a little more like Mr. Christian and a little less like Captain Bligh. But from a dramatic perspective it is Laughton’s Bligh that is by far the most entertaining character on screen.

The Blu-ray edition of this 75-year-old film is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, it looks excellent with only a few brief scenes showing any signs of significant damage. But it is fairly skimpy on the extras with only a one-minute Academy Awards newsreel, a trailer and a superfluous short film on Pitcairn Island (where Christian and his fellow mutineers ultimately landed). The disc is packaged with a 34-page booklet with many nice publicity stills but precious little additional information on the shooting.

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