Making the Grades
In 1787, the HMS Bounty left England's shores and set sail for Tahiti. Its mission was simple: travel to the island, gather seedlings of the breadfruit tree, transport them to the West Indies, then return to Britain's shores. But the winds of ill feelings began to blow before the ship left harbor.
Stern and self-righteous, Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) demonstrates his authority by punishing an insubordinate sailor from a pervious voyage. The sentence of over 300 lashes is carried out, even though the prisoner is dead! Such inhumanity leaves a lasting impression upon the new crew, who already has mixed emotions about the mission.
Midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is shocked and sickened. Descending from a more aristocratic class, the young gentleman pursued his commission with the intent of studying the Tahitian language, and learning the ropes of sailing along the way. The coarseness of the company he is confined with on the 90-foot vessel is completely foreign to him.
Seaman Tom Ellison (Eddie Quillan) has been pressed into the service of the King's Navy against his will. Pulled away from his wife and wee son, the conscript balks at the injustice of the system in general, and the merciless Captain in particular.
The problem also affects Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), second in command. Wrestling with obeying orders contrary to his own better judgment, he is having a difficult time restraining his tongue-and fist.
After almost a year of enduring mistreatments such as beatings, tying to the mast, keelhauling, and cutting rations, the weary enlistees arrive at their destination. The sun-drenched shores of the heavenly paradise are a stark contrast to the hell they have experienced on board.
Warmly welcomed by their hosts, especially the beautiful Tahitian women (who are scantily clad in traditional costumes), the men quickly immerse themselves in native life. By the time they are called to weigh anchor, many strong attachments have formed, including allusions to sexual relationships.
Back on the boat, Bligh's abuses begin again. When he picks on the lovable-though-drunken doctor, enough is enough. Knowing full well mutiny is a crime punishable by death, Christian risks everything to lead the insurrection, intending to return to the tropical isle.
Winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 1935, Mutiny On the Bounty holds up remarkable well, even after the passage of so many years. This is largely due to the incredible performance of Charles Laughton. Touting a perpetual scowl, his characterization of the sanctimonious tyrant will have even the audience ready to revolt.
Based on a true story, this romanticized version of the plight of the Bounty and its crew captures the essence of a time in history when people were not considered equal. Made by a nation whose founding fathers fled similar oppression, the film sympathizes with those who have had to resort to violence to gain liberty and freedom. It also provides some interesting insights into catalysts for democracy.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Mutiny on the Bounty.
Why do some people, seduced by a little authority, become obsessed with power and control? Besides Captain Bligh, what other characters struggled with this problem?
If you were in the position of the crew, how would you respond to the inflicted injustices?
Historical information about the Bounty, the mutiny, and the descendants of Fletcher Christian, can be found at: http://www.lareau.org/sagaintro.htm