Mutiny on the Bounty (1962 film)
|Mutiny on the Bounty|
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
|Music by||Bronisław Kaper|
|Cinematography||Robert L. Surtees|
|Edited by||John McSweeney, Jr.|
|November 8, 1962|
|178 minutes |
|Box office||$13.6 million|
Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 American Technicolor epic historical drama film starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris, 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). It was directed by Lewis Milestone, who replaced Carol Reed early in the production schedule, and it turned out to be Milestone's final film.
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. Behind the scenes, Marlon Brando effectively took over directing duties himself and caused it to become far behind schedule and over budget — resulting in director Carol Reed pulling out of the project and being replaced by Lewis Milestone who is credited as director of the picture. The film was panned, and was considered a box office bomb, having lost over $6 million.
In the year 1787, the Bounty sets sail from Britain 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 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 voyage to Jamaica, 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 Britain with remarkable speed.
The military court exonerates Bligh of misdeed and recommends an expedition to arrest the mutineers and put them on trial, but also comes to the conclusion that the appointment of Bligh as captain of The Bounty was wrong. In the meantime, 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 Britain and testify to Bligh's wrongdoing and asks his men to sail with him. To prevent this possibility the men set the ship on fire and Christian is fatally burned while trying to save it.
- Marlon Brando as 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian
- Trevor Howard as Capt. William Bligh
- Richard Harris as Seaman John Mills
- Hugh Griffith as Seaman Alexander Smith
- Richard Haydn as Horticulturalist William Brown
- Tarita Teriipaia as Princess Maimiti
- Matahiarii Tama as Chief Hitihiti
- Percy Herbert as Seaman Matthew Quintal
- Duncan Lamont as John Williams
- Gordon Jackson as Seaman Edward Birkett
- Chips Rafferty as Seaman Michael Byrne
- Noel Purcell as Helmsman William McCoy
- Ashley Cowan as Samuel Mack
- Eddie Byrne as John Fryer (Sailing Master)
- Tim Seely: Edward 'Ned' Young (Midshipman)
- Frank Silvera as Minarii
- Henry Daniell as British chief court-martial admiral (uncredited)
- Torin Thatcher as British officer Staines (uncredited)
Following the success of 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty, director Frank Lloyd announced plans in 1940 to make a sequel which focused on Captain Bligh in later life, to star Spencer Tracy or Charles Laughton. No film resulted. In 1945 Casey Wilson wrote a script for Christian of the Bounty, which was to star Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and focus on Christian's life on Pitcairn Island. This was never filmed.
In the 1950s MGM remade a number of their earlier successes in colour and widescreen such as Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda. They decided to remake Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1958 the studio announced Aaron Rosenberg would produce the film and Marlon Brando was mentioned as a possible star.
Eric Ambler was signed to write a script at $5,000 a week. It was intended to combine material from the Nordhoff and Hall novels Mutiny on the Bounty and Pitcairn Island (MGM also owned the rights to a third book, Men Against the Sea, which dealt with Bligh's boat voyage after the mutiny).
In 1959 it was announced Paramount would make a rival Bounty film to be written and directed by James Clavell called The Mutineers, which would focus on the fate of the Muntineers on Pitcairn Island. However this project was not made.
Marlon Brando eventually was signed, at a fee of $500,000 plus 10% of the profits. Carol Reed was hired to direct. It was decided to shoot the film in Tahiti itself to take advantage of color and widescreen, being shot in Cinema 65. Robert Surtees would be the cinematographer. The film was set to begin shooting 15 October 1960 and the film was called "MGM's Ben Hur of 1961."
Brando wrote in his memoirs that around the same time he was offered the lead in Lawrence of Arabia but selected the Bounty because he preferred to go to Tahiti, a place that had long fascinated him, rather than film six months in the desert. "Lean was a very good director but he took so long to make a movie that I would have dried up in the desert like a puddle of water," wrote Brando.
Rosenberg said the film would focus more on the fate of the crew after the mutiny, with Captain Bligh only in a minor role and the mutiny dealt with in flashback. "It was Brando's idea," said Rosenberg. "And he was right. It has always been fascinating to wonder what happened to the mutineers afterwards."
"The mood after the mutiny must be one of hope," said Reed. "The men hope to live a different sort of life, a life without suffering, without brutality. They hope for a life without sick ambitions, without the pettiness of personal success. They dream of a new life where nobody is trying to outdo the next person."
Ambler says his brief was to make the Fletcher Christian part as interesting as Bligh.
MGM were unhappy with Ambler's script, although the writer estimated he did 14 drafts.
According to one report, Ambler did the first third of the film, about the journey, Driscoll did the second, about life on Tahiti, and Chase did the third, about the mutiny and afterwards. Gay wrote the narration. Then Lederer was brought on before filming was to begin.
Brando personally selected a local Tahitian, Tarita, to play his love interest.
Shooting was to begin in October 1960 however delays in the scripting and construction of the ship (built at a cost of $750,000) meant it did not begin until November. More than 150 cast and crew arrived in Tahiti, and MGM took over 200 hotel rooms.
Shooting began on November 28. Filming was difficult, in part because the script was being rewritten and Brando was reportedly ad-libbing much of his part. Also costs were high due to the remote location. The replica of the Bounty took nine months to make rather than the scheduled six and arrived after filming had started.
However Marlon Brando later wrote "realities surpassed even my fantasies about Tahiti, and I had some of the best times of my life making Mutiny on the Bounty... Every day as soon as the director said "cut" for the last time, I ripped off my British naval officer's uniform and dove off the ship into the bay to swim with the Tahitian extras working on the movie. Often we only did two or three shots a day which left me hours to enjoy their company, and I grew to love them for their love of life."
In January 1961, after three months of filming, Reed flew back from location with, reportedly, an "undisclosed ailment". This has been reported as gallstones and heat stroke; other reports said Reed was unhappy over differences in the direction of the story.
By now the rain season had started. Filming halted and the unit returned to Hollywood. MGM demanded that Reed finish the film within 100 days. Reed said he needed 139. The studio fired him. Brando claims in his memoirs that MGM fired Reed because he wanted to make Bligh the hero. 
Reed was replaced by Lewis Milestone. "Reed was used to making his own pictures," said Milestone. "He was not used to producer, studio and star interference. But those of us who have been around Hollywood are like alley cats. We know this style. We know how to survive."
Milestone later said "I felt it would be an easy assignment because they'd been on it for months and there surely couldn't be much left to do."  However he says he found that they had only shot one seven minute scene, where Trevor Howard issues instructions about obtaining breadfruit.
Filming resumed in March 1961 at MGM studios. Milestone says for his first two weeks on the film "Brando behaved himself and I got a lot of stuff done" such as the arrival of the Bounty at Tahiti. The director says he "got on beautifully with" the British actors "they were real human beings and I had a lot of fun."
Milestone says "the trouble started" after the first two weeks. He summarised the cause being "the producer made a number of promises to Marlon Brando which he couldn't keep. It was an impossible situation because, right or wrong, the man simply took charge of everything. You had the option of sitting and watching him or turning your back on him. Neither the producers nor I could do anything about it."
The unit returned to Tahiti in April 1961. Filming was also plagued by bad weather and script problems. Richard Harris clashed with Brando and Brando was frequently late to set and difficult while filming.
"Marlon did not have approval of the story," said Milestone. "But he did have approval of himself. If Brando did not like something he would just stand in front of the camera and not act. He thought only of himself. At the same time, he was right in many things that he wanted. He is too cerebral to play the part of Mr. Christian the way Clark Gable played it."
Milestone says the script was constantly being rewritten by Charles Lederer on set with input from Rosenberg, Sol Siegel and Joseph Vogel, as well as Brando. Milestone says Lederer would often work on the script with Brando in the morning and shooting would not start until the afternoon. Milestone says "you had the option of shooting it but since Marlon Brando was going to supervise it anyway, I waited until someone yelled 'camera' and went off to sit down somewhere and read the paper."
A Tahitian was killed while filming a canoe sequence.
The film ended up costing $10 million more than originally expected.
"I have been in this business a few days but I never saw anything like this," said Milestone. "It was like being in a hurricane on a rudderless ship without a captain. I thought when I took the job that it would be a nice trip. By the time it was finished I felt as though I had been shanghaied."
"The big trouble was lack of guts by management at Metro," said Milestone. "Lack of vision. When they realised there was so much trouble with the script they should have stopped the whole damn production. If they did not like Marlon's behavior they should have told him that they must do as they wished or else they should have taken him out of the picture. But they just did not have the guts."
Shooting finished by October 1961.
In May 1962 work was still being done on the script and the film. The studio was unhappy with the ending. A number of writers pitched ideas including Brando. Eventually Billy Wilder suggested the ending that was shot. Milestone refused to direct it so George Seaton shot Christian's death scene in August 1962.
The Saturday Evening Post ran an article about the making of the film which Brando felt disparaged him. He sued them for $5 million. He got MGM president Joseph Vogel to speak in support of the actor.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "there's much that is eye-filling and gripping as pure spectacle," but criticized Marlon Brando for making Fletcher Christian "more a dandy than a formidable ship's officer ... one feels the performance is intended either as a travesty or a lark." Variety called the film "often overwhelmingly spectacular" and "generally superior" to the 1935 version, adding, "Brando in many ways is giving the finest performance of his career." Brendan Gill of The New Yorker wrote that the screenwriter and directors "haven't failed, but a genuine success has been beyond their grasp. One reason for this is that they've received no help from Marlon Brando, who plays Fletcher Christian as a sort of seagoing Hamlet. Since what Fletcher Christian has to say is so much less interesting than what Hamlet has to say, Mr. Brando's tortured scowlings seem thoroughly out of place. Indeed, we tend to sympathize with the wicked Captain Bligh, well played by Trevor Howard. No wonder he behaved badly, with that highborn young fop provoking him at every turn!" Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film an "unquestionably handsome spectacular" that "teeters headlong into absurdity" in its third hour, summarizing: "It would seem that the mutiny occurred only because the hero blew his top and is egotistically disturbed because he did so." The Monthly Film Bulletin of the UK criticized Brando for an "outrageously phony upper-class English accent" and the direction for "looking suspiciously like a multiple hack job." Time wrote that the film "wanders through the hoarse platitudes of witless optimism until at last it is swamped with sentimental bilge."
Milestone said later he thought Brando's performance "was horrible".
The film was the 6th highest-grossing film of 1962 grossing $13,680,000 domestically, earning $9.8 million in US theatrical rentals.. However it needed to make $30 million to recoup its budget of $19 million. This meant the film was a box office flop.
- Academy Award for Best Picture – Aaron Rosenberg
- Academy Award for Best Production Design – Set Decoration, Color – George W. Davis, Henry Grace, Hugh Hunt and Joseph McMillan Johnson
- Best Cinematography, Color – Robert Surtees
- Best Effects, Special Effects – A. Arnold Gillespie (visual) and Milo B. Lory (audible)
- Best Film Editing – John McSweeney Jr.
- Best Music, Score – Substantially Original – Bronisław Kaper
- Best Music, Song – Bronisław Kaper (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics) – for the song "Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me)"
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Comic book adaption
Marlon Brando fell in love with Tahiti and bought an island, Tetiaroa.
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- "Official Ballot" (PDF). AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. American Film Institute. September 23, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- "Gold Key: Mutiny on the Bounty". Grand Comics Database.
- Gold Key: Mutiny on the Bounty at the Comic Book DB
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- Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1971). The celluloid muse; Hollywood directors speak. Regnery.
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