Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Movie Review: I Am Your Captain, Your Judge, and Your Jury

Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty was nominated for eight Academy Awards and came away with one, Best Picture. The story is based on the novel of the same name from 1932 by Charles Nordhof and James Norman Hall. Among its large cast are two strong standouts: Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh.

Buy Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Blu-ray

In 1787, a group of men drinking in a tavern are forcefully enlisted into the Queen’s Navy. When they ask who the captain is, and are told Captain Bligh, chills move through the crowd like a cold front. Bligh is known for tough tactics with his men, and most would like to avoid him, but when a press gang presses you in 1787 London, you join the Navy.

Aboard ship, Bligh is rough from the start, ordering the lashing of a man who has already died from a previous punishment. Fletcher Christian, his lieutenant, tries to abide by Bligh’s stern ways, instituting order wherever it is needed, but his heart is too soft for Bligh’s punishments. By the time they land in Tahiti to gather supplies and breadfruit (the point of their sea voyage), Bligh penalizes Christian by denying him shore leave. Imagine a two-year voyage and they don’t let you off the boat in Tahiti. 

After picking up the breadfruit, Bligh’s treatment of the ship’s doctor, Mr. Baccus (Dudley Digges), results in his untimely death and the crew begins to discuss mutiny. Lieutenant Christian demures, but when he sees some of his comrades shackled in iron chains, he finally comes to the thinking of most of the rest of the crew, unlocks the gun cabinet, and takes over the Bounty. Bligh and his companions are placed on a boat with a map, food, water, and left to fend for themselves.

One would expect this will be a story in which Christian Fletcher is redeemed or hung at the end of a yardarm. Or one could expect to watch the comeuppance of Captain Bligh. The fact that the story finds a new ending that doesn’t involve any of those options is part of its great appeal. Also, Clark Gable is smashing without a mustache, but the star, the real star, is Charles Laughton. He is absolutely riveting every time he decides on an irrational order or is dangerously friendly with other seamen. He radiates “sea captain” vibes in every scene.

Mutiny on the Bounty is definitely an old movie. There are a couple moments where it uses unnecessary title cards giving it the feel of a silent picture. Also, some of the acting is a bit of a pantomime. However, the movie is strong in every other way. Gable is wonderful, and Laughton is a powerhouse. You owe it to yourself to see this slice of cinematic history.

Posted in ,

Greg Hammond

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter