The true story of the Bounty is an amazing tale. There are sea voyages on wooden sailing ships that took multiple years and girdled the Earth on routes that threaded the Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope to get to such amazing places as Tahiti must have been in the eighteenth century. Then the human drama of a crew finally rebelling against a merciless tyrant and then escaping the whole British navy to start a new life on a remote island from which they could never return. Bligh’s unbelievable 3,500-mile sea voyage after being set adrift in a life boat. And finally, the trial of the men who were captured on Tahiti after the mutiny.
Hollywood found the perfect Captain Bligh in Charles Laughton. His strutting, bellowing Bligh is an inhuman monster of legendary proportions. When a seaman whose knees are raw sores asks for water to wash the sand of the deck out of his wounds Bligh orders him to be keel-hauled. That means he was dragged the whole length of the ship bottom against a barnacle encrusted hull. Naturally he doesn’t survive.
And Clark Gable is an excellent Christian Fletcher. His defiance of Bligh before the mutiny is measured and prudent but when the outrages become insurmountable, he finally snaps and leads a mutiny that takes the ship and sends Bligh and his loyal followers out onto the open sea. The movie presents us with Fletcher sailing the ship to Tahiti and allowing his men to take Tahitian wives. When the British come looking for them Fletcher leads all of them to Pitcairn Island on the Bounty where they start a new life.
Franchot Tone portrays Midshipman Byam a friend of Fletcher’s who refuses to join the mutiny but is forced to remain with the mutineers. When the Bounty flees Tahiti Byam remains to return with the British but he is accused of mutiny by Bligh and ends up on trial for his life. According to the movie the trial is the cause célèbre that eventually caused the British Navy to reform their treatment of enlisted men.
Along with these leads there are a dozen other supporting characters that are each engaging and entertaining. The seamen, the officers, the Tahitians, the Admiralty Court Martial. Each is given screen time to tell a story. One of the standouts for me is Dr. Bacchus, the one-legged, constantly inebriated ship’s surgeon who provides medical help and moral support to the victims of Bligh. His other amusing characteristic is the constantly changing story of how he lost his leg. One time it was in a sea battle against John Paul Jones. Next, it’s a French frigate and after that a Spanish galleon.
As I said at the start, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is an amazing tale. The 1935 movie is based on a fictionalized account. There are many inaccuracies that have been added to the story. For instance, Bligh was not the captain of the ship that brought back the mutineers from Tahiti and chased the Bounty. There is no record that a sailor was keel-hauled and died by Bligh’s order. And Bligh did not attend the court martial. But it is a remarkable movie nevertheless and it is still very entertaining eighty-five years after it was made. I highly recommend it for all fans of adventure stories.