A ship’s crew, under the fierce cruelty of their captain, leads a mutiny which became famous and changed British attitudes toward nautical law.
This is a film which I grew up with. I’ve seen it at least three dozen times if not more. It’s one of the few Classic Hollywood films that I own. It is an Epic, a story of good and evil, and a high seas adventure all rolled into one. What isn’t to like.
There are certain films which have had especially lasting effects on me. This is certainly one of them. The frustration at leadership which abuses its power and empathy for those who have none and are ruled with tyranny is a story I would see played out year after year in factories, retail stores, and pretty much anywhere else I have ever worked and that’s on top of all the way it plays out in politics, the military, or churches in the news or in my life.
The morality of this film has shaped me and there are times when I look at an individual and think, “There’s a Captain Bly,” or “Fletcher Christian would be proud,” or saw something amiss and muttered to myself “Three Cheeses.”
One of the best aspects of this film is the production design which goes hand in hand with the scale of the shoot. There isn’t a moment in this film when you don’t feel completely immersed in the world and time it portrays.
Part of the credit for this belongs to the production team that outfitted the ship, designed the costumes and built the sets for below decks. Part of it is also due to the way the film was shot with numerous at sea sequences and hundreds of actual native islander extras. When these are combined the atmosphere of the film is so immersive that as a child, I’m not sure I realized fully that Carey Grant wasn’t an actual sailor on the high seas.
The immersion owes just as much to the acting as the design, though. With stellar performances from Charles Laughton (“Spartacus”) and Clark Gable (“Gone with the Wind”), the brutality of the age in which these men sailed is related from every angle in a way that confirms the reality they live in. One may question whether Bly’s methods are cruel, sound, or necessary but there is no doubt that the attitude he puts forth is real and that he truly feels his strictness is for everyone’s good.
When Fletcher rebels the anger in his heart is thick and not easily washed away. It may take time for him to break and make his move but when he does it comes with a force that can’t be swayed no mater how much his friends may plead.
The themes in this film are important ones for every age. The ship, The Bounty, is a microcosm for nations, communities, companies, and families. The dangers of unchecked power, unresolved conflict, and oppression of the weak sail with every ship, in every board room, and every construction site.
Seldom have I found a story which probes this subject with as much style, honesty, fun, and heartbreak. If for no other reason than for the sheer spectacle, I recommend this film, confident that it will end up moving people’s hearts as much as it entertains them.
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