There have been many tales of the infamous 1789 incident at sea. The 1984 movie with Mel Gibson was by far the most realistic, but I have not seen the 1935 Clarke Gable movie. And then we have this 1962 movie with the one and only Marlon brando. Another American vision of the events but this time a highly fictionalised vision.
So as we all know by now, the story of the HMS Bounty briefly goes like this. The mission of the Bounty and her crew was to reach Tahiti, pick up a cargo of breadfruit and take it to the Caribbean (amongst other things). Upon reaching Tahiti and whilst carrying out their mission, the crew slowly become infatuated with the tropical lifestyle. The prospect of many more months at sea and going back to the cold island of the United Kingdom seemed bleak (can’t blame them). Once the crew do set sail once again months later, tensions are running high and eventually boil over with half the crew backing 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian. They cast Captain Bligh and his loyal men adrift and head back to Tahiti. Arriving back at Tahiti they aren’t welcomed as much as they were before by the natives. Christian and his crew realise that the British Navy will come for them and Tahiti will be their first port of call. So once again the mutineers set sail and eventually end up on Pitcairn Island, their new home for the rest of their lives.
So that’s pretty much how things went officially (I believe), but that’s not how this movie went, oh no. Lets cut straight to the chase here, apparently Marlon Brando took the reigns on this film without telling anyone, including the original director Carol Reed. He just assumed control and caused a bit of a shitstorm. I won’t go into the complete ups and downs of the situation behind the camera but I believe this heavily fictionalised version of the story was down in part to Brando. Mainly Brando changing his mind on what he wanted to see, his lines, the script as a whole etc…Just the entire shoot in general.
The fact that Brando wasn’t even a good match for the young Christian kinda makes it even worse really. Fletcher Christian was a young, fresh faced man with thick dark curly/wavy hair and pale skin, a typical Brit essentially. Brando had blonde straight hair, was very tanned and was shorter than Christian. Brando clearly had problems with the accent which is cringeworthy to listen to these days and he portrayed Christian as a bit of a dandy. Sure he was dashing and admittedly an actor doesn’t have to be a clone copy of a historical figure for sure, but come on guys.
What’s really terrible is the fact that you can spot the sequences in the film which are fiction (if you know the story that is). For starters, there is absolutely nothing in this film that shows us the relationship between Fletcher Christian (Brando) and the native girl he fell for. One of the main reasons Christian is thought to have mutinied was for the love of a native girl on Tahiti, along with the lifestyle. But this is absent here, Christian seems to just mutiny because he doesn’t like Captain Bligh (Trevor Howard) and how he runs the ship, which was part of the issue but not all of it.
This leads into Captain Bligh’s relationship with Christian as a whole. There is no relationship here, its ignored and Bligh is shown to be a vicious cruel man. Once again this is far from the truth. Bligh and Christian were known to be friends before this mission and carried on being friends throughout. Bligh was not an evil dictator who had men beaten for little reason. He may have been strict and ran a tight ship but this was very common. But in this movie Bligh is portrayed as a merciless madman, its not that long into the voyage that Bligh has one of the men lashed. Don’t get me wrong, Trevor Howard is wonderful as Bligh, his harsh, cocky, elitist persona is practically infuriating as he struts around having men keelhauled and lashed left right and centre. Its just unfortunate that this portrayal is completely wrong and almost on a superhero level of wickedness.
Keelhauled by the way was a punishment at sea where a man was restrained in rope and via a manpower pulley system, dragged along the underneath of a ships hull. Mainly port to starboard or vice versa. Once again I don’t believe this actually happened on the Bounty. Much like Bligh’s other punishments of restricting water and food rations, may have happened but I haven’t read about it.
Some of the other evil scenes from Bligh are comical they really are. He deliberately packs the ship with twice the amount of breadfruit to look good to his superiors. But in order to accommodate this he reduces the water storage on-board. To punish the men for drinking too much water he has the drinking ladle hung from main sail rigging, so if anyone wanted a drink they’d have to climb the rigging to get the ladle. There is also a scene where Bligh is stabbed! And punched by Christian (giving Brando a conveniently butch heroic moment to revel in).
I have to mention the films finale because its literally a complete joke. According to this movie adaptation Christian and his mutineer crew do indeed reach Pitcairn Island to set up shop so to speak. But then Christian decides he and his mates should return to old blighty to face the consequences and testify against Bligh and his evil actions. The other mutineers are naturally shocked by this and decide to take matters into their own hands, they go about setting the Bounty on fire. Christian and a few others try to save the vessel but fail. Christian is mortally wounded in the process which conveniently gave Brando a juicy death sequence to revel in. This ending literally shocked me, my mouth was wide open in horror at the utter disrespect and sheer amount of pure bullshit.
Visually the movie is incredible looking, partially shot on location in the South Pacific. The scenery, the bold colours…the lush greens and blue skies, the landscapes etc…You can’t deny these old movies could look utterly sumptuous despite being nonsensical. The Bounty was also recreated for the movie and it too looks fantastic set against the rolling blue Pacific ocean. Some shots, like the 84 movie, are so beautiful, they could be framed and on your wall. It was also very cool to see a sequence/shot that replicates the famous 1790 painting (by Robert Dodd) of Bligh and co set adrift whilst the mutineers toss breadfruit overboard.
Whilst I have to admit I did enjoy this movie, mainly down to the visuals and classic story, it is horrendously flawed as I’ve explained. All the acting is reaching an epic level as you would expect for an old silver screen classic such as this, despite all the fictional claptrap. The extra scenes set against bluescreens is unfortunately very obvious though, as are the wigs the actors are wearing because they had all had their haircut since wrapping (kinda amusing actually). In short, the scale of this production is epic, it looks epic, the cast are epic and the acting is just about reaching epic levels. Alas they butchered the story turning it from a potentially historically accurate epic, into a corny Hollywood epic. But if you love these golden oldies (as I do) then this will satisfy you I guarantee. My score reflects the loss of historical accuracy which I can’t overlook.