Based on a true incident that took place in 1787 aboard the H.M.S. Bounty, the film tells the story of the brutal Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton), whose cruel mistreatment of his crew causes Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) to lead the men in revolt. Laughton's splendid performance highlights this classic sea adventure.


The classic film MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY tells a timeless story of human qualities put to the test, of overreaching authority, and of the question of loyalty. In the eighteenth century, the men who lived by the code of the sea were set apart from the rest of the world. They may have fought among themselves and cursed their officers, but to the rest of mankind they presented a united front of honor and pride. Thus, a mutiny required extreme causes in order to be effected, and carried with it devastating results. H.M.S. Bounty is famous because its mutinous crew are remembered as heroes rather than as outlaws.

The film's plot is based on a historical incident. In 1787, the H.M.S. Bounty left England bound for Tahiti under the rule of Captain William Bligh, a man cruelly faithful to the regulations of sea command. During the voyage, the crew's psychological tolerance to Bligh's mania for discipline weakened as did their bodies through the lack of adequate food and drink. The business in Tahiti completed, the Bounty started on the voyage home; a few days out of port, however, when the men had endured all of the injustice they could stand, with Fletcher Christian as their leader, they seized the ship. Captain Bligh and eighteen loyal sailors were set adrift in the ship's launch, and the Bounty was turned around and directed back to Tahiti. Defying all normal human effort, Bligh somehow directed the dinghy almost four thousand miles across open ocean to the Dutch East Indies, a feat that still remains unparalleled in nautical annals. Eventually, some of the mutinous sailors were returned to England where they stood trial. (In the movie version, these men are pardoned after a passionate speech in which the details of Bligh's diabolic rule are made public.)

In the hands of less skillful storytellers, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY could have been simply a tale of good versus evil; but the film's writers provide Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh with one of the most stunning characterizations of a dichotomous fiend and perhaps questionable hero in cinema history. Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian summarizes the nature of Bligh when he says, "I've never known a better seaman, but the man's a snake." The character of Bligh is perfectly illustrated in two scenes. In the first, Bligh is unwavering in his courage and determination as he stays at the ship's wheel during a terrifying storm; in the second, he orders a crew member to be flogged for supposedly stealing a ration of cheese which Bligh himself has taken for his own larder.

The character of Bligh is satanically complex and unpredictable, and Laughton's portrayal of it remains one of the screen's most penetrating and chilling accomplishments. The art of Laughton's acting transcends his own personal qualities so that the character of Bligh fully emerges. Onboard the Bounty he stalks the decks with a peevish petulance, always aware of the men's dislike of him; but when given the opportunity to display the slightest hint of humanity, therefore gaining a little favor with them, he opts to have a man keel-hauled, and then revels in the crew's growing hatred. In the film, it is a look, a pause, or a turning of the head on the part of Laughton that reveals more to us about the character of Bligh than the dialogue.

Before the filming of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Laughton went to Gieves, Saville Row tailors in London, and inquired about some uniforms they had made during the late 1700's for a Captain William Bligh. Gieves produced the exact specifications of the uniforms worn by the real Bligh and had a complete set made for Laughton to wear in the picture -- an indication of the attention to detail which went into Laughton' s transformation into Bligh. Although the Bligh we see on the Bounty is both complex and riveting, he is equally astounding after he and his men are expelled from the ship; and he becomes compellingly heroic as he pilots the small dinghy through stormy seas with the single- minded purpose of reaching land safely. The audience understands, at last, that his almost perverse dedication to the discipline of seamanship is real, and that this discipline allows him to guide the small boat across thousands of miles of treacherous waters.

Whereas Bligh immediately earns our contempt, then later commands our unwilling admiration, Fletcher Christian at the outset captures us with his admirable qualities of compassion and concern for the men; later in the film, however, he displays traces of cowardice. Initially, Clark Gable was unenthusiastic about the part, doubting his ability to handle the British accent required of the role; he also felt that he would look silly in a pigtail and knee breeches. His worries proved groundless, however, since Fletcher Christian became one of his most important roles and earned for him much praise along with an Academy Award nomination. Laughton and Franchot Tone were also nominated, but surprisingly all lost out to Victor McLaglen that year, even though MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY won the Oscar for Best Picture and was the top box-office film of 1935.

The supporting cast ably backs up Laughton's magnificent performance; rather than the one-dimensional roles often assigned to the supporting cast, each secondary role in this film is fully realized and contributes essentially to the drama as a whole. For example, Byam (Franchot Tone) at first does not seem to be much more than a comrade of Christian; he is eager to sail on the Bounty, even under Bligh. Fresh out of midshipman's training and anxious to get to Tahiti where he will begin the chronicling of a Tahitian dictionary, he is, in many ways, the perfect balance between Bligh and Christian. He is a product of a sailing family and is very compassionate in his understanding of the crew's grievances. When Bligh sends him aloft during a storm as punishment and then sends him up again after Christian has ordered him down, he takes his punishment because he understands that the Captain's word is law; Christian, however, constantly questions Bligh's authority. In the end it is Byam who returns to England to face the charges and almost certain death after the mutiny.

Technically, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is still breathtaking, and the images of the ship -- it sails cracking and filling with the offshore breeze; the men scurrying up the rigging; the waves carrying her up and out to sea -- are sequences of extraordinary beauty which have not often been matched on film. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY was the most expensive film of 1935 with a reported budget of between $1,500,000 and $2,000, 000. A major portion of the cost went into the building of an exact replica of the original Bounty and into two months of filming in the South Seas. There is little to fault in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY except, perhaps, the small amount of time devoted to Bligh's incredible journey to Timor in the Dutch East Indies. It was such an astounding voyage that more time should have been devoted to it since, more than the mutiny itself, this journey is the crux of the story, the hinge on which the major portion of the drama hangs.

Release Date: 1935

Production Line: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Frank Lloyd

Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson

File Editor: Margaret Booth

Run Time: 135 minutes

Cast: Captain William Bligh - Charles Laughton Fletcher Christian - Clark Gable Byam - Franchot Tone Bacchus - Dudley Digges Sir Joseph Banks - Henry Stephenson Burkitt - Donald Crisp Ellison - Eddie Quillan Mrs. Byam - Spring Byington Tehanni - Movita Maggs - Ian Wolfe Fryer - DeWitt Jennings Muspratt - Stanley Fields Tinkler - Dick Winslow Churchill - Pat Flaherty Cockney Moll - Doris Lloyd Innkeeper - Lionel Belmore Peddler - Mary Gordon Smith - Herbert Mundin Millard - Hal Le Sueur Captain Nelson - Francis Lister Maimiti - Mamo Maggs - Ian Wolfe Morgan - Ivan Simpson Morrison - Wallace Clark Hayward - Vernon Downing

Review Sources: 

Newsweek: November 16, 1935, p. 19 New York Times: November 9, 1935, p. 19 Time: November 18, 1935, p. 32 Variety: November 13, 1935, p. 16

Screenplay (Author): 

Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson, Charles Nordhoff,  James Norman Hall

Black and White


Award Citations:
Academy Awards - Winner - Best Picture - MGM
Academy Awards - Nomination - Best Director - Frank Lloyd
Academy Awards - Nomination - Best Actor - Clark Gable, Charles
Laughton, Franchot Tone
Academy Awards - Nomination - Writing (Screenplay) - Jules Furthman,
Talbot Jennings, Carey Wilson
New York Film Critics - Winner - Best Actor - Charles Laughton

A remake appeared in 1962 and another, under the title THE BOUNTY, in 1984.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) is one of the best nautical adventure films of all time and one of MGM's greatest classics. The story of the Bounty's mutiny, directed by Frank Lloyd, was adapted from the first two volumes of the Charles Nordhoff-James Norman Hall 1932 best seller, The Bounty Trilogy (composed of Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn Island). The film was awarded the 1935 Best Picture Academy Award. Charles Laughton's exaggerated portrayal of the duty-obsessed Captain Bligh makes the character one of the screen's most memorable villains.

I watched Mutiny on the Bounty for three times, each time I found something amazing about the movie. This is a classic. Gable's performance was superb. Christine was so different from his other roles he played before. For an actor who always claimed he didn't have any acting ability, the character of Christine proved that he was a great actor who was capable playing a role with depth.

In 1787, H.M.S. Bounty set sail for Tahiti on a scientific expediction. On the journey, Caption Bligh (Charles Laughton) quickly shows contempt for the men, and treats them with brutality, in a regime of fear and punishment. Bligh lectures the seamen: "The ship's company will remember that I am your captain, your judge, and your jury. You do your duty and we may get along. Whatever happens, you'll do your duty." He barks chilling, staccato orders to his Master's Mate in an oft-repeated line: "Mr. Christian - come here." He cruelly and sadistically meets a sailor's request for water in the hot weather: "I'll give you water. Mr. Morrison, keel haul this man."

Christian (Clark Gable) resents his Captain's inhumanity. The voyage is long and arduous, but the Bounty finally arrives in Tahiti. Christian is ordered to stay on deck, but Byam is allowed to go ashore, where he is befriended by Hitihiti, the island's chieftain. Byam is quickly entranced after meeting and falling in love with one of the beautiful Tahitian women, Tehani (Maria Castaneda - Movita). When the chief arranges for Christian to come ashore for one day, the Master's mate also meets and falls in love with Hitihiti's granddaughter, Maimiti (Mamo Clark).

After six months of relief on the idyllic island of Tahiti, where most of the men marry Tahitian natives, they must reluctantly leave after securing their breadfruit trees. It doesn't take long for Bligh's viciousness to be displayed again. The incident that triggers the famous mutiny on board is Bligh's insistence that the sick, elderly ship's Dr. Bacchus (Dudley Digges) come topside to witness the flogging of five crew members caught attempting to desert the ship and return to Tahiti. When the deathly-ill, alcoholic doctor dies struggling to the deck, Fletcher breaks. When he sees his men being beaten, he raises his fist and fights for their freedom. Fletcher calls for mutiny, and the mutineers tie the Captain to the mast and taunt him. Christian saves Bligh from certain death at the hands of the mutineers, but refuses to give up the mutiny, charging Bligh with murder.

In a hasty departure from the island, Fletcher Christian tells Byam that he accepts his fate: From now on, they'll spell mutiny with my name. I regret that.

Quotes from 50 Classic Motion Pictures, the stuff that Dreams are made of, by David Znman.

Mutiny on the Bounty is perhaps the greatest sailing adventure of all time. The story has the spell binding lure that comes only from authenticity. The incredible, salty tale was fact, not fiction. Gable was reluctant to play Fletcher Christian because he didn't like the idea of competiting with British actor. He finally agreed to play only after Irving Thalberg talked him into it. The movie took three years to make at a cost of $2,000,000- a lofty figure in those Depression days.

History tells us that Christian, who was twenty-four when he joined the Bounty, had ailed with Bligh on two previous voyages. They were good friends and often ate together. In fact, on the day of the mutiny, Bligh invited him to his cabin for dinner. Some historians feels that Christian and others had fallen in love with their Tahitian sweethearts and had probably decided that life in the South Seas would be infinitely better than the life to which they were returning in England. Supporters of this theory feel that Bligh's own account of the incient is probably correct. Bligh wrote that the crew has assured themselves of a more happy life among the Tahitians than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some female connnections, has most likely been the leading cause of the whole business.

Despite the gamble they made, life on Pitcirn turned out to be disastrous for all the mutineers but one. Four years after landing, a quarrel erupted over a woman-there were more men than women in the exile group-and the natives murdered all but four of the crew. Two of the survivors drank themselves to death. Another was put to death to safeguard the lives of the others. In 1814, when H.M.S. Briton anchored off the island, it found only one survivor of the mutiny-John Adams. He was not arrested and lived on Pitcairn until he died in 1829. Today about a hundred descendants of the mutineers still live on the tiny, three-mile island. One of them is named Fletcher Christian.

Mutiny is a smash hit. All three of its stars-Laughton, Gable and Tone-won Oscar nominations, a record that still stands. In the final balloting, they lost out to Victor McLaglen (The informer), but the movie itself took the best film Oscar.

Hosted by