Film review by Jason Day of Mutiny On the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh.
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During a horticultural mission to the Pacific to pick up bread-fruit saplings, a number of remonstrations from the crew of HMS The Bounty result in harsh and over zealous punishments from the tyrannical Captain Bligh (Trevor Howard). The crew entreat the second in command Lt. Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando) to uphold a more just approach and, eventually, he throws Bligh off the ship, casting him out in an open boat. Enraged, Bligh returns home determined to see Christian punished.
Review, by Jason Day
The long and painful conception, gestation and birth (3 years, from start in 1959 to premiere in 1962) of MGM’s epic remake of their 1935 hit has passed into Hollywood legend. In part, it also precipitated the collapse of film star-led productions.
Various delays (the replica of The Bounty caught fire as it sailed to the main location of Tahiti), an permanently unfinished script (even when shooting started) and on-set difficulties with star Marlon Brando (who appropriated directing responsibilities from Carol Reed and Lewis Milestone) gobbled up the budget and the cast and crew’s time.
(NB: read this incisive and gossipy Saturday Evening Post article by Bill Davidson for Milestone’s choice and juicy behind the scenes tit-bits).
The reason why Brando decided to lord it up on set has gone to the grave with him, but that the finished product still has sweep and impact is a miracle of the movie production technique or, at least, the patience of Aaron Rosenberg.
How close the man must have been to a heart attack (an estimated $20m of other people’s money was invested in this film) we may never know, but the stress must have been considerable as his name does not appear on the official credits.
Brando’s swaggering, indolent Christian divides critical opinion to this day, but I found it silken and hugely enjoyable. His ridiculously over-enunciated English accent is an amusing delight. He plays Christian not as the upright heroic Navy man Clark Gable played in MGM’s famous 1935 version, but as a louche dilettante on a round the world cruise. Its a performance full of panache and style.
His co-star Howard called him rude and unprofessional and the tension is palpable in their scenes together, as Howard is obviously riled waiting for Brando to respond.
Was Brando just putting on a huge, extended act, making everyone hate his wildly, deliberately over caricatured creation? If it was, then he and Howard strike sparks from the get go and this creates a thrilling double-act for an audience from the instant they first see each other. We just have to sit back and watch them play up.
Double Oscar winner Milestone was more or less ignored on set as the crew followed Brando’s instructions, but his inexperience behind the camera does show. Although Brando and cinematographer fashioned a beautiful looking film, there are yawning gaps between moments of action. The whole film feels as if its an hour too long, an over indulgence in terms of duration.
There are, however, moments later on in the film when the two stars must have had enough. Howard and Brando, apparently in conversation, are seen in Bligh’s quarters, though judging by the distances between them and the camera set-up, only one was on set at certain times. No amount of cutting from a great editor can mask this.
Cast & credits
Director: Lewis Milestone (Carol Reed, uncredited). 178mins. MGM. (12)
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg.
Writer: Charles Lederer.
Camera: Robert Surtees.
Music: Bronislau Kaper.
Sets: George W. Davis, J. McMillan Johnson
Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Hayden, Tarita, Percy Herbert, Duncan Lamont, Gordon Jackson, Chips Rafferty, Noel Purcell.