Mutiny on the Bounty (1935 film)

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935 film)
Mutiny on the Bounty

title card
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Produced by Frank Lloyd
Irving Thalberg
Written by Novel:
Charles Nordhoff
James Norman Hall
Talbot Jennings
Jules Furthman
Carey Wilson
Starring Charles Laughton
Clark Gable
Franchot Tone
Music by Score:
Herbert Stothart
Nat W. Finston (uncredited)
Walter Jurmann
Bronisław Kaper
(both uncredited)
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by Margaret Booth
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) November 8, 1935 (1935-11-08)[1]
Running time 132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,905,000
Box office $4,460,000

Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1935 film starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, and directed by Frank Lloyd based on the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel Mutiny on the Bounty.

The film was one of the biggest hits of its time. Although its historical accuracy has been questioned (inevitable as it is based on a novel about the facts, not the facts themselves), film critics consider this adaptation to be the best cinematic work inspired by the mutiny.



The movie chronicles the real-life mutiny aboard the Bounty led by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) against the ship's captain, William Bligh (Charles Laughton). Like the novel, it portrays Captain Bligh as an abusive villain whose cruelty towards the crew and most of the officers leads Christian to mutiny. When Bligh is cast on to a longboat with others that want to join him, Midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) tries to stop the mutiny, but fails. Christian leads the Bounty to Tahiti where the remaining crew live for many years. But Bligh has made it back to England and takes a ship to Tahiti. Byam sees the ship and decides to return to England while Christian with next to the whole crew sails with the natives and finds another island to live on. When Byam goes on the ship (unaware Bligh is captain of the ship) he is taken captive, for Bligh believes he had something to do with the mutiny.

Back in England, Byam is court-martialed and found guilty. Before the court condemns him, Byam tells the court of Bligh's cruelty on the ship. Meanwhile, Christian has found Pitcairn Island, an island difficult to land on. He grounds the Bounty on the island and burns the ship so pursuers will not find Christian and his followers. Back in England Byam is pardoned and subsequently returns to sea.

Historical inaccuracies

Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh set adrift by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable)

The movie contains several historical inaccuracies. Captain Bligh was never on board HMS Pandora, nor was he present at the trial of the mutineers who stayed on Tahiti. At the time he was halfway around the world on a second voyage for breadfruit plants. Fletcher Christian's father had died many years before Christian's travels on board the Bounty - the film shows the elder Christian at the trial. It should be noted though, that the movie was always presented as an adaptation of the Nordhoff and Hall trilogy, which already differed from the actual story of the mutiny.

Bligh is depicted as a brutal, sadistic disciplinarian. Particular episodes include a keelhauling and flogging a dead man. Neither of these happened. Keelhauling was used rarely, if at all, and had been abandoned long before Bligh's time. Indeed the meticulous record of the Bounty's log reveals that the flogging rate was lower than the average for that time. Prior to the mutiny the Bounty had only two deaths—one seaman died of scurvy (not keelhauling) and the ship's surgeon died apparently of drink and indolence and not as a result of abuse by Bligh. Likewise the film shows the mutineers taking over the ship only after killing several loyal crewmen when in fact none died although one crewman came very close to shooting Bligh until stopped by Christian. Lastly Christian is shown being inspired to take over the ship after several crewmen have unjustly been put into irons by Bligh; this is fictional license.

For historical accuracy, Clark Gable reluctantly had to shave off his famous moustache because the sailors in the Royal Navy in the 18th century had to be clean-shaven. The film is also accurate in having Bligh state that he and Christian had met before the voyage of the Bounty.

In the final scene of the film Gable gives a rousing speech to his fellow mutineers speaking of creating a perfect society of free men on Pitcairn away from Bligh and the Navy. The reality was very different. Free from the restraints of Naval discipline the mutineers proved incapable of self-government. Pitcairn degenerated into a place of drunkenness, rape and murder. Apart from John Adams and Ned Young all the mutineers (including Christian) perished, most of them by violence.

Midshipman Roger Byam was based on a real person Midshipman Peter Heywood who is not listed in the novel or motion picture. Just as the fictional Byam is pardoned at the end of the film the real life Peter Heywood was also pardoned for his part in the mutiny. 1935 MGM Trailers made an error calling Midshipman Byam an Ensign.

Mutineer Thomas Ellison is depicted as being allowed to see his wife before his execution. Such an event never happened and never would have been permitted in real life.



Filming locations

Hollywood star James Cagney (then on a hiatus from Warner Bros. during a contract dispute) and future stars David Niven and Dick Haymes were uncredited extras in the movie.

Charles Laughton, who had a severe self-image complex concerning his weight and unattractive looks, suffered horribly in comparing himself to the handsome, masculine Clark Gable.[2] Laughton would constantly watch his own walk, gestures, and face, making sure to not let his complex be projected.[2]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

This film is, as of 2011, the last Best Picture winner to win in no other category.

Award Nominee Result
Best Picture Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(Irving Thalberg and Albert Lewin producers)
Best Director Frank Lloyd John FordThe Informer
Best Actor Clark Gable Victor McLaglenThe Informer
Charles Laughton
Franchot Tone
Best Writing, Screenplay Jules Furthman, Talbot Jennings and Carey Wilson Dudley NicholsThe Informer
Best Music, Scoring Nat W. Finston and Herbert Stothart
("Love Song of Tahiti" written by Walter Jurmann, uncredited)
Max SteinerThe Informer
Best Film Editing Margaret Booth Ralph Dawson – A Midsummer Night's Dream

Other honors

American Film Institute recognition



A 1962 three-hours-plus widescreen Technicolor remake, starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh, was a disaster both critically and financially at the time, but has come to be reevaluated by critics. In 1984, Mel Gibson played Christian opposite Anthony Hopkins as Bligh in a lavish remake called The Bounty. This final version, which gives a far more sympathetic view of Bligh, is considered to be the closest to historical events.

The 1935 version was itself not the first film account of the mutiny. In 1933, an Australian film entitled In the Wake of the Bounty, with the then-unknown Errol Flynn as Fletcher Christian, was released, but was not successful and received few bookings outside of Australia.


  • Friz Freleng's cartoon Mutiny on the Bunny casts Yosemite Sam (called Shanghai Sam) as a foul-tempered skipper who shanghais Bugs Bunny, only to see Bugs rebel. Also, in one scene in Freleng's earlier Buccaneer Bunny, Bugs dresses up as Capt. Bligh (including a visual and vocal impression of Charles Laughton) and barks out orders to Sam (called Seagoin' Sam).
  • The 1967 Lost in Space episode "Mutiny in Space" features Ronald Long imitating Charles Laughton in the role of spaceship captain "Admiral Zahrk."
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Wettest Stories Ever Told" features the family telling stories set on ships. The second segment is a parody on Mutiny on the Bounty and casts Principal Skinner as Capt. Bligh, brutalizing the crew members (played by Bart, Milhouse, Martin, Nelson, Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney).


  1. ^ Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from its Beginnings to the Present. New York: MacMillan. p. 125. ISBN 0-02-86042906.  In New York, the film opened at the Capitol Theatre, the site of many prestigious MGM film premieres.
  2. ^ a b "Charles Laughton". Hollywood Greats. August 31, 1978. No. 5, series 2. 12-13 minutes in.

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