Mutiny on the Bounty (1962 film)

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Mutiny on the Bounty
Poster for Mutiny on the Bounty.jpg
Original film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg (uncredited)
Written by Charles Lederer
Based on Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Starring Marlon Brando
Trevor Howard
Richard Harris
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Edited by John McSweeney, Jr.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
November 8, 1962
Running time
178 min.
(UK:185 min.)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million
Box office $13,680,000[1]

Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 historical drama film starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard based on the novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The film retells the 1789 real-life mutiny aboard HMAV Bounty led by Fletcher Christian against the ship's captain, William Bligh. It is the second American film to be made from the novel, the first being Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). The score was composed by Bronisław Kaper.

Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed in the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process, the first motion picture so credited. It was partly shot on location in the South Pacific.


In the year 1787, the Bounty sets sail from England for Tahiti under the command of captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard). Her mission is to transport breadfruit to Jamaica, where hopefully it will thrive and provide a cheap source of food for the slaves.

The difficult voyage gets off to a difficult start with the discovery that some cheese is missing. Bligh, the true pilferer, is accused of the theft by seaman John Mills (Richard Harris), and Bligh has Mills brutally flogged for showing contempt to his superior officer, to the disgust of his patrician second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando). The tone for the months to come is summarized by Bligh's ominous pronouncement that "cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty, it is efficiency." Aristocrat Christian is deeply offended by his ambitious captain.

Bligh attempts to reach Tahiti sooner by attempting the shorter westbound route around Cape Horn, a navigational nightmare. The strategy fails and the Bounty backtracks east, costing the mission much time. Singleminded Bligh attempts to make up the lost time by pushing the crew harder and cutting their rations.

When the Bounty reaches her destination, the crew revels in the easygoing life of the tropical paradise — and in the free-love philosophies of the Tahitian women. Christian himself is smitten with Maimiti (Tarita Teriipaia), daughter of the Tahitian king. Bligh's agitation is further fueled by a dormancy period of the breadfruit: more months of delay until the plants can be transplanted. As departure day nears, three men, including seaman Mills, attempt to desert but are caught by Christian and clapped in irons by Bligh.

On the return voyage, Bligh attempts to bring back twice the number of breadfruit plants to atone for his tardiness, and must reduce the water rations of the crew to water the extra plants. One member of the crew falls from the rigging to his death while attempting to retrieve the drinking ladle. Another assaults Bligh over conditions on the ship and is fatally keelhauled. Mills taunts Christian after each death, trying to egg him on to challenge Bligh. When a crewman becomes gravely ill from drinking seawater, Christian attempts to give him fresh water in violation of the Captain's orders. Bligh strikes Christian when he ignores his second order to stop. In response, Christian strikes Bligh. Bligh informs Christian that he will hang for his action when they reach port. With nothing left to lose, Christian takes command of the ship and sets Bligh and the loyalist members of the crew adrift in the longboat with navigational equipment, telling them to make for a local island. Bligh decides instead to cross much of the Pacific in order to reach British authorities sooner and arrives back in England with remarkable speed.

Christian sails back to Tahiti to pick up supplies and the girlfriends of the crew, then on to remote and wrongly charted Pitcairn Island to hide from the wrath of the Royal Navy. Once on Pitcairn, Christian decides that it is their duty to return to England and testify to Bligh's wrongdoing and asks his men to sail with him. To prevent this possibility they set the ship on fire and Christian is fatally burned while trying to save it.



Filmed on location in Tahiti, this remake of Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) stars Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. M.G.M, high on the success of their remake of Ben-Hur (1959) was seeking another epic success. Carol Reed was hired as the original director; however he would be replaced by Lewis Milestone during production. Reed had worked with Trevor Howard on The Third Man (1949) and Outcast Of The Islands (1951).[2]

Lewis Milestone had won directing Oscars for Two Arabian Knights (1927) and All Quiet On The Western Front (1930). Although he had directed films in all genres, he had in particular directed many war films; The General Died At Dawn, Edge Of Darkness, The North Star, The Purple Heart, A Walk In The Sun, Arch Of Triumph, Halls Of Montezuma, They Who Dare and Pork Chop Hill. Milestones last film prior to Bounty was the ‘Rat Pack’ hit Oceans 11.[3]

The screenplay was written by Charles Lederer whose first script was the adaptation of the play The Front Page (1931) directed by Milestone, and he too was hot off Ocean's 11. However there would be uncredited script contributions by Eric Ambler, William L. Driscoll, Borden Chase, John Gay and Ben Hecht. Producer Aaron Rosenberg had worked with director Anthony Mann and writer Borden Chase on Jimmy Stewart westerns such as Winchester '73, Bend Of The River and The Far Country. Chase has pointed out the similarities between Bounty and his script for Red River.[4]

Directors are supposed to be in charge, and once M.G.M caved in and replaced Carol Reed it was essentially all over so far as keeping a lid on the production; Brando’s ego was out of control during this period of his career. Mutiny on the Bounty became notorious for the way Marlon Brando effectively took over directing duties himself and caused it to become far behind schedule and over budget, much like his previous film, which he had directed; One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Bounty cost $19 million, an enormous amount for the day, it was a financial flop even though it was the sixth highest grossing film in its year of release.[5]

Brando made his directorial debut in the western One-Eyed Jacks, which was originally to be directed by Stanley Kubrick. Brando’s penchant for multiple retakes and character exploration as an actor carried over into his directing, and the film went over schedule and budget. Paramount expected the film to take three months to complete but shooting stretched to six and the production costs doubled. Brando’s inexperience as an editor also delayed postproduction, and Paramount eventually took over. Brando always spoke of the experience with indifference, but many feel this is where his previous contempt with Hollywood turned corrosive. This revulsion reportedly boiled over to Mutiny On The Bounty. Brando was accused of deliberately sabotaging nearly every aspect of the epic production. The Saturday Evening Post ran an article by Bill Davidson that screamed;

‘Six Million Dollars Down The Drain: The Mutiny Of Marlon Brando.’[6]

Director Milestone commented that executives; “…deserve what they get when they give a ham actor, a petulant child, complete control over an expensive picture.” [7]

Originally it was planned to shoot Bounty in sequence, starting with scenes under grey October skies, then bursting into Tahitian colour. However the reconstructed ‘Bounty’ was behind schedule and director Reed had to start shooting the island sequences first, or any footage that did not require the ship in the background. Even so, Reed ran out of pages to shoot and Brando wasn’t happy with the script. Eric Ambler who had worked with Carol Reed on The Way Ahead (1944), returned to Hollywood. His first replacement was Howard Clewes didn't work out, then Charles Lederer (Oceans 11) arrived to take over the writing chores.[8]

Shooting dragged on so long the rainy season hit. Seventeen days were lost due to weather and the company returned to M.G.M to shoot interiors. [9]

Carol Reed clashed with Brando and M.G.M management early in the production. He and Brando disagreed about the interpretation of Bligh, whom Reed wanted presented as an obvious villain, and whom Brando thought should be a fop. Reed also wanted to omit some scenes; however the studio insisted he ‘shoot the script.’ After Reed suggested production head Sol Siegel fire Brando for holding up production, he asked to be relieved. Siegel refused… and then fired him. Had Reed been allowed to quit, he would have been paid nothing for his time, but since M.G.M fired him, he pocketed $200,000.[10]

Lederer suggested Milestone who had directed Oceans 11, as a replacement director. He agreed to do the film only after speaking with Reed, who assured him he had wanted to leave. Things went well for two weeks, and then Milestone noticed when he called “Roll 'em,” nothing happened until Brando gave the nod… and nobody asked Milestone if they should print the take. During the next day of filming Milestone didn't attempt to give any direction and instead read a book. This brought producer Rosenberg to the set to ask if Milestone was quitting; he assured Rosenberg it wasn't worth risking a lawsuit to quit the film. Nonetheless, he warned Siegel, “This guy Brando is going to ruin you…” [11]

Milestone had been in charge of some challenging shoots in his career, notably Kangaroo (1952), which had cast changes, was shot on location, was constantly being re-written, had cast members falling ill, and suffered from unexpected rain, so he theoretically may have been able to steady the ship. But Brando was a new beast. Hollywood had never had an actor as influential, nor as individualistic; he didn’t just antagonise studio heads, as many actors also said Brando was difficult to work with. There was no love lost between Brando and Richard Harris; in fact Brando remained distant with the cast, alienating several of them with his lateness on the set and his changing scenes after rehearsing them. As filming continued Brando slowed down the production by questioning each line in the script, and each of Milestone's suggestions. He demanded repeated re-writes; most days started with Brando and Lederer going over the day's scenes in private until well past noon, keeping the crew and other actors waiting.[12]

When in July production returned to Tahiti relations between Brando and Milestone were still tense, and the script was still being re-written daily. The rest of the cast dealt with this by drinking heavily. Hugh Griffith was fired during filming when his alcoholism became unmanageable; that is why his character disappears for large portions of the film. Director Milestone had dealt with rampant alcoholism on set before, on the ironically enough titled The Captain Hates The Sea (1934). [13]

After wrapping the location shoot, the production returned for a final time to Hollywood. They needed to tie up the Pitcairn Island scenes. Lederer brought in Ben Hecht to help write the final scenes. Hecht is a Hollywood legend who wrote the play ‘The Front Page’ that the film was based on, linking him to Charles Lederer who wrote the adaptation. Hecht wrote crime drama’s (Scarface), comedies (Design For Living), adventure yarns (Gunga Din), adapted classics (Wuthering Heights), wrote one of Hitchcock’s greatest films (Notorious), film-noir (Where The Sidewalk Ends), and worked as an uncredited script doctor on more films than he got credited for, such as Carol Reed’s Trapeze, and the Marlon Brando film Guys and Dolls.[14]

Brando directed the final scenes as even though Milestone showed up each day, nobody bothered to call him to the set; Milestone never directed another feature film. In interviews he estimated Brando's behaviour had cost the production $6 million.[15]

Production finally ground to a halt in October 1961, more than a year after filming had started. But they still didn't have an ending, mainly because nobody could figure out why Christian's crewmates would kill him. Billy Wilder (no stranger to difficult actors having directed Monroe in Some Like It Hot) suggested that if Christian decided to sail back to England to be tried in court that would provide a motivation for the ship's burning with Christian on board. Brando submitted a list of directors he would work with on the final scenes, and George Seaton who had never worked with the actor, agreed on condition that there was no publicity and that he not be renumerated. Brando was the poster boy of professionalism during that week of shooting. The scenes were shot in August 1962, almost a year after the end of principal photography.[16]

‘The Saturday Evening Post’ published a scathing article titled ‘The Mutiny of Marlon Brando.’ Drawing largely on an interview with Milestone, they recounted everything Brando had done to delay the production, without mentioning the late delivery of the ‘Bounty,’ or the weather delays. On that basis Brando twisted the arm of new head of M.G.M Joseph R. Vogel to issue a statement that Brando wasn’t to blame for the escalating budget or production delays. This would later be used against Vogel when he was fired![17]

Despite the bad press, the film garnered seven Academy Award nominations that year including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Special Effects, but was overshadowed by David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia.[18]

At the time Brando and Elizabeth Taylor were the poster children for Hollywood excess, criticised for what was perceived as their part in causing the budgets to balloon on their epic films Bounty and Cleopatra. Aside from their record pay checks ($1.25 million for Brando, with overages; a minimum of $1 million to Taylor), the press claimed it was prima donna behaviour on the part of the two stars that caused the resulting financial hardships at their respective studios, M.G.M and 20th-Century Fox. Although both films were costly, Cleopatra was far more so coming in at $44 million, the most expensive film ever made when adjusted for inflation. While M.G.M was hurt financially, Cleopatra nearly bankrupted Fox. Taylor however, went on to win a second Oscar (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and remained among the highest paid movie stars in the world throughout the 1960s. [19]

The story goes Hollywood blacklisted Brando and wouldn’t use him, but his next two pictures were for Universal; The Ugly American (where his restrained performance was given credit), and Bedtime Story (which was remade in 1988 as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). Aaron Rosenberg, far from being afraid of working with Brando again, then put him in Morituri (1965) for 20th Century-Fox; Fox were clearly fearless after Taylor and Cleopatra. Then Columbia made the Southern all-star The Chase, and then back to Universal for the Mexican-Western The Appaloosa and Chaplin’s swan song A Countess From Hong Kong. Warner Brothers then put both Brando and Taylor in the truly strange Reflections in a Golden Eye. In 1968 Brando went overseas to swinging London to make the ‘hip’ Candy, which as is often the way of these things, lost money even though it was the 13th highest grossing film of that year. Across the channel to France for The Night of the Following Day, in which Brando and director Hubert Cornfield’s working relationship collapsed. Next came Queimada! or Burn! which was shot in Italy and Colombia, and is obviously close to Brando’s political heart. The Nightcomers found Brando back in the U.K in an unsubtle but entertaining shocker, and then Brando found himself back in the U.S with a reluctant Paramount (remember they financed One-Eyed Jacks) agreeing to hire him for The Godfather (1972). The film was an enormous success, but after a series of flops Paramount had got Brando cheap - so he refused to do any publicity for the picture. However Brando had the last laugh as he still had it; he was 44 years old and was completely convincing playing a character in his seventies towards films end.[20]


Box office performance[edit]

Given its enormously inflated budget of $19 million, the film was a box office flop,[21] despite being the 6th highest grossing film of 1962. It grossed only $13,680,000 domestically,[1] earning $9.8 million in US theatrical rentals.[22]


The 1962 movie did not win any Oscars but was nominated for seven:[23]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for Mutiny on the Bounty. The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
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  21. ^ Trivia for Mutiny on the Bounty. IMDb. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  22. ^ "Top Rental Films of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 pg 37.
  23. ^ "NY Times: Mutiny on the Bounty". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 

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