Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

6.5/10

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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Mel Gibson apparently never got the memo from Tinseltown. The man who was blacklisted by Hollywood has slowly, over the years, kept plugging away with various projects that could almost be seen as giant middle fingers to the industry. Its almost as if Gibson has upstaged Hollywood by displaying just how damn good of a director he actually is. You can almost feel the awkward shuffling in seats as the Hollywood top brass realise what they’ve been missing out on for the last ten years or so. Yes Mel is back with another corker, a biographical war epic based on actual events from the Battle of Okinawa, WWII, 1945. And yes its loaded with religious connotations as you would expect.

So briefly, based on the actual events in the life of one Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist from the state of Virginia. After getting into a scrap with his younger brother and nearly killing him by accident, Doss turns to his religion and completely renounces violence of any kind. Years later he meets up with Dorothy Schutte, a nurse at the local hospital. Doss slowly gets into a relationship with Schutte whilst slowly gaining an interest in medical procedures, helping the wounded. With the outbreak of war, both Doss and his brother enlist in the army much to the distress and anger of their father. Upon reaching boot camp in South Carolina Doss quickly discovers that his aversion to using any weapons based on his religious beliefs, does not go down well with his commanding officers or fellow recruits.

After beatings and unfair abuse from his drill Sergeant (on orders from the commanding officer), Doss is eventually brought up on charges and pending a court martial. Luckily Desmond’s father manages to avert his imprisonment with a letter from his old WWI buddy who is now a very high ranking officer. Doss is therefore allowed to train as a medic and go into battle as he pleases, unarmed. Its whilst in the thick of battle on the island of Okinawa that Doss displays great courage, strength and compassion for not only his fellow troops, but the enemy as well.

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So lets just dive straight into the main crux of this movies story, the fact that Desmond Doss refused to carry, use or even touch a weapon because of his religious beliefs. Now apparently this is all pretty factual which amazes me frankly. I mean good on this guy for standing by his beliefs (God knows how that would go down these days) but holy bananas! I can see why his fellow recruits and officers grew so tired of his bullshit. All through the training sequences in this film I was frustrated, the fact that Doss refused to even touch a weapon just frustrated me. Not because I’m a gun loving lunatic but because I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that this guy wouldn’t hold a weapon. In peace times sure, understandable, but during WWII?! How the literal flip did this guy survive I just don’t know.

In order to gain a pass for some leave every soldier is required to pass basic training, which included weapons training. Doss obviously hadn’t completed this and is refused his leave pass by his commanding officer. Doss explains that he intends to get married on his leave and begs for the pass, but he is refused. Doss is told he can have his pass if he can just prove that he can handle and load a rifle…Doss refuses. I was like…DUDE!! TAKE THE GUN AND DO IT FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR WIFE!! Even when it came to facing a court martial (which I believe didn’t actually happen, it never went that far), the man still wouldn’t handle a weapon. His wife is there in tears as he sits in a military jail awaiting trial, his commanding officer and drill Sergeant all begging him to just hold a weapon, just once…and he still refused. I was literally biting chunks out of my sofa cushion. Yes there are principles but there is also a bit of common sense, come on!!

Like other military flicks I actually found the training section of the film (at the start) the most engaging. Yes I know that might sound strange but meeting all the different soldiers we will be following, finding out what type of persons they are, meeting the predictably stern and shouty drill instructor and watching him abuse the men etc…its kinda fun. Its here I will give kudos to Vince Vaughn who gives us a wonderful performance that was totally unexpected. I never saw Vaughn in this type of role, never in a million years…and he’s really good! OK sure the entire segment is essentially a complete rip-off from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ with the various soldiers and their silly nicknames. Plus Vaughn’s drill Sergeant isn’t a million miles away from R. Lee Ermey’s drill Sergeant truth be told, but its all good and he’s easily the best thing in the movie for me.

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The actual war segments of the film, well half of the film, are of course the real meat and potatoes. Here we see the young Doss risking life and limb to save his fellow compadres from certain death, all the while without a weapon upon him. Its insane to actually think this guy actually did this, it almost seems like fiction to be honest. We see numerous amounts of men getting cut to ribbons by machine gun fire in seconds. Men getting blown to smithereens left, right and centre, bodies everywhere, its hell on Earth. Yet despite all that, skinny Doss sprints across the barren wasteland, ducking and diving, dodging danger like a ferret and never getting hit. He finds one man after another, treats them, carries them back to safety, hell he even gets forced down into the Jap underground tunnels and treats a soldier down there! All without being discovered, getting injured or even seen! This is why at times I felt like I was watching a superhero origins flick.

Whilst the film is amazingly accurate and harrowing at the same time there were still things that nagged me. Some of these were really quite blatantly obvious too such as the knife that one soldier gets stuck in his foot right at the start of training…yet this doesn’t go anywhere. The dude has a big hunting type knife stuck in his foot. Drill Sergeant Vince Vaughn sees it, pulls it out and the man goes off into training? No treatment for that then?? Whilst Doss is up on the ridge pulling injured men to safety and lowering them down the cliff, even though other soldiers have noticed this, no one feels the need to climb up and help him? Then there was the fact that these soldiers at the bottom of the cliff, apparently, didn’t report any of this till much later. Which we find out later in the film when it eventually does get reported that someone is lowering bodies down the cliff. Lastly, I don’t know how accurate everything is in this film but the ending did seem very Hollywood-esque to me. Expected I guess but I would of preferred a more down to earth approach which it may or may not have been admittedly.

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This is a Mel Gibson movie and by now I’ve come to expect greatness from old Mel. Was this great? well yes and no to be fair. I did enjoy the movie, it did engage me and it was at times emotional, but its not the greatest war film I’ve come across even though its very good. Its obvious the religious aspect is probably what attracted Gibson to the story in the first place, and he certainly makes the most of it (Doss getting lowered down the cliff face at the end being the clear symbolic religious highlight for sure). But that aspect doesn’t cloud the movie if you’re worried about that. The film is ferociously violent once the fighting kicks in no doubt about that, is it the most violent war film I’ve seen? Hmmm…maybe, not too sure. Kudos to Garfield for his portrayal of Desmond Doss, he clearly went all out and lost weight to fit the bill, not only that he does look like the man too. Admittedly I wanted to slap the guy across his cheeks half the time but I guess that’s a performance well done. I should also give kudos to Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s father with a truly gritty, bruising performance showcasing the man’s many demons.

At the very end we get some real archive footage of the real Desmond Doss being awarded the Medal of Honour by President Harry S. Truman. Desmond himself, Desmond’s younger brother Hal and one of Desmond’s commanding officers Jack Glover.

7/10

The Bounty (UK, 1984)

So for those who might be unaware, this movie recounts the actual events of the HMS Bounty and its crew in the year 1789. The movie is actually told in flashbacks from the perspective of William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins), the Commanding Lieutenant of the ship, during his court martial in England.

History tells us that in 1787 the HMS Bounty set sail from England, destination Tahiti, with Bligh in command. The mission to collect breadfruit pods for transplantation in the Caribbean. During the course of the voyage everything is generally fine and dandy on-board, all shipshape and Bristol fashion. The Bounty reaches Tahiti in 1788 and is welcomed by the natives with open arms. The crew spend five months on the island (more than intended) and slowly became infatuated with the freedom and general carefree lifestyle the natives and their home offered. During this time Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian falls in love and marries a native girl. When the time came to leave the island many crew members simply did not wish to, including Christian, which lead to obvious massive problems. Under a lot of pressure Bligh managed to whip the crew back into shape to continue their mission. Alas it wasn’t long before Christian cracked and along with 18 crew members they took the ship and set Bligh adrift with his loyal supporters.

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The film follows the story in stages which are interspersed with small segments of Bligh’s trial. Whilst watching I was actually surprised at how fast the plot moved. There is little to no time in England prior to the voyage, and then before you know it the ship has reached Tahiti with very little time at sea. Now this isn’t a bad thing per say, the main crux of the film surrounds what happens on Tahiti and of course what follows so the film does skip along to those points. The only main bit of plot for the outgoing voyage is the attempt at rounding the Cape (Cape Horn), which fails due to the treacherous weather conditions.

What we see for the first stage of the movie is essentially short bursts of character driven sections to show us who we are dealing with. Bligh is clearly a good fair man, a moral man who does actually care about his crews welfare. He simply wants nothing more than to successfully complete his mission and a personal goal of circumnavigating the globe, is that too much to ask? Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) is a family friend of Bligh. He appears to be an up and coming young naval officer in the making. Devoted to his role, his Lieutenant, well spoken and again fair and moral. Sailing Master John Fryer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is another young up and coming naval officer in the making. Much like Christian he is devoted to his work and superior, but is clearly more stern and happy to dish out punishments.

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Down below you had the usual rabble of able seamen that varied in personality and movie stereotype. Churchill (Liam Neeson) is the ship’s Corporal, a brutish thug of a man that seemed quite happy to start a fight over very little. William Cole (Bernard Hill) the ship’s Boatswain, very loyal to Bligh, could be seen as overly keen, a company man type fellow. John Smith (John Sessions) the meek ship’s steward. Ned Young (Phil Davis, the British Gary Busey), the quite calm Midshipman and weird Sting-esque looking fellow. Add various background sailor characters played by other British names such as Neil Morrissey and Dexter Fletcher.

Of course visually the film is epic in scope, there’s no question about that. The ship is shot from various angles throughout that are truly beautiful, sunsets on the skyline, approaching Tahiti , leaving Tahiti, cruising the ocean waves etc…Real locations used in French Polynesia along with New Zealand add authenticity along with the already authentic general look of the film as a whole. Yes this film most definitely offers a realistic and gritty-esque look at life on the high seas in the late 1700’s. Yet at the same time somewhat overly romantic and sumptuous.

Essentially this version of the classic incident offers more insight into the relationship between Bligh and Christian. Relatively close family friends at the start, Bligh offering Christian a good position on the voyage at his side, then promoting him midway. Its very interesting to watch Hopkins play this father figure of sorts to Gibson’s Christian. Bligh clearly wants to help Christian go far in his career and shows on numerous times he is willing to hand out lighter punishments that might normally be far more serious. He would scold instead of flog, flog instead of hang. Its also interesting to watch Bligh observing his men in Tahiti as they frolic with the natives. One could assume he was jealous, and that could be a reason. But its far more logical to think he was concerned about how he would get his men back into the right frame of mind when it was time to leave. Its obvious to see that all the topless native women, sandy beaches, sunshine and apparent lack of work and discipline would be cause enough to keep Bligh up at night.

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At the same time Gibson’s Christian is almost a bit of a non-entity in the movie. Obviously this is because the story is told from Bligh’s perspective but its clear Gibson is merely added in to look pretty on the beach and in a uniform (which he does). Whilst Bligh has always been seen as a possible tyrannical monster in the history books, Christian was portrayed as a more heroic character breaking free to live his life. Dare I say a bit of a Romeo and Juliet situation. Well that is not what you see here. Gibson’s Christian is a good man for sure, but young and easily influenced. Like some of the crew, having found a woman to bonk endlessly, getting tattooed, getting a tan etc…Its all too much for the impressionable young man. He rebels against his father figure, his position and basically goes off the deep end in a bit of a tantrum really. You can see it hurts Bligh deeply to see this, he tries to stop Christian by offering leniency when things go too far, he does try! But Christian had already made his mind up.

Obviously its hard to know what really happened and what triggered all this. The film takes a certain direction and it does seem the most logical, we’re all only human. Would an older, more experienced seaman be able to handle to temptations and look at the situation more sensibly? After all it was only Christian from the top ranks that mutinied, or got it all going. The lower ranking men had more of a reason seeing as they were treated like crap all the time.

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Its definitely Hopkins movie for the most part, his performance is big, bold and commanding (fancy that). We get the whole range from Hopkins, the softly spoken gentleman, the stoic leader, the angry father figure and now amusingly, the Hannibal Lecter grin complete with lots of glistening sweat at one point. As already said Gibson is pretty but not much else, he is totally outclassed by Hopkins at every stage. His one moment of real acting sees him kinda blow it frankly. When Christian takes the Bounty and holds a sword to Bligh, the overblown rants just come across as cringeworthy more than anything. You can see quite clearly, here is a man, a Hollywood star, who basically can’t really act too well…unless its in some one-liner filled action flick. In the end Gibson’s Christian comes across more like a spoilt schoolboy who sulks when he doesn’t get his way. I mean come on, we all have those moments when you just wanna quit everything and run away to some idyllic location. But most of us are able to calm down and think rationally, put things into perspective.

For a British production back in 1984 this is certainly a massive achievement, I didn’t even know it was a British movie. The entire movie really has a glorious Hollywood feel to it, in a good way, but at the same time it can’t escape cliches and stereotypes. Take a look at the native women on Tahiti, they all appear to be rather cute don’t they. Long flowing dark hair, perky breasts, full lips, nice and slim, and apparently perfectly happy to have sex with all the sailors. The thing is most of these guys aren’t much to look at and considering they’ve all been at sea for so long, I’d guess very dirty, smelly and unhealthy. But who cares! sex party on the beach everyone! The film also shows life on Tahiti as pretty absurdly sweet frankly. All Christian does all day is bonk, get tattooed and get lavished upon by his new bird. Its like no one on Tahiti does any work or anything. Plus none of the sailors ever appear ill or skinny or anything, you’d think they would be rather malnourished. Don’t even go there with Gibson’s Christian, the man is an Adonis at all times, the journey has zero affects on him.

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I must mention the score by the legendary Vangelis, of electronic orchestral musical fame (‘Blade Runner’, ‘Chariots of Fire’). Even without knowing who composed the score you can tell straight off the bat its a Vangelis score. Those recognisable electronic chimes and haunting ethereal melodies that seem to touch your inner spirit. Now I will admit that at first I didn’t like it, my reasons? well I just didn’t think it fit the film. Firstly the score is very very similar to Vangelis’ work on ‘Blade Runner’ I think. Secondly, because of its similarity to that particular futuristic score, it kinda felt out of place in an 18th century setting and a bit samey. However, after going back to the film to rewatch and listen, I can confirm that the score has indeed grown on me.

‘The Bounty’ is on one hand a bit special, the film is actually pretty darn accurate as far as I’m aware, bar the odd snippet. It goes by a version of events as recorded from Bligh’s perspective, and does so very well. Whether or not that account is accurate or not, we will never know. However, far be it for me to take sides in the argument, what we see and what you can research does seem entirely likely. On the other hand (there’s always another hand), the film is very much of its time (that being the 80’s) with regard to certain stereotypes, the usage of pretty boy Gibson and the portrayal of the natives and their homeland. The film is completely engaging but at times a tad slow and very very obviously over romanticised, to the point of corny. Nevertheless this British movie is highly enjoyable from start to finish with relatively gritty realistic visuals, big performances and a sweeping tale of love and freedom.

8/10