Forgive me fellow film buffs, I'm a sinner. In movies many people fail to appreciate, I find my guiltiest pleasures. MGM's 1962 remake of its Oscar-winning 1935 success, Mutiny on the Bounty, has gone down in movie history as one of the most notorious productions of 1960's cinema. Alongside 20th Century-Fox's true disaster, Cleopatra, Bounty's primary claim to fame is as one of the films that killed Hollywood; picked the pocketbook of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; ended the career of an Oscar-winning veteran director; and stuck a dagger so deep in the heart of its star's image and prestige that it took a decade for his reputation to recover.
MGM's 1959 remake of Ben-Hur was the real culprit. That film was such a colossal hit, both financially and critically--it won an amazing eleven Oscars, including Best Picture--that its producers put into play a slew of remakes of the company's past hits: Cimarron, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Mutiny on the Bounty. All of these films were costly and ran into budget problems. Bounty was, without a doubt, the most beloved of the bunch, mostly because Clark Gable, who played Fletcher Christian, the lead, in the 1935 original version, had passed away in early 1960, approximately the same time that Marlon Brando agreed to play the role in the remake. Famed British director Carol Reed (The Third Man, Fallen Idol, Odd Man Out) was tapped to helm the massive production. Noted thespians Trevor Howard as by-the-book Captain Bligh, Richard Harris, and Hugh Griffith also signed on.
|The recreation of HMS Bounty|
From the beginning, the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty was beset with problems. Filming was scheduled to begin in Tahiti on October 15, 1960; however, the full-scale replica of the HMS Bounty was not ready in time, and the script by famed writer Eric Ambler was a mess that pleased no one. Ambler eventually quit and was replaced by veteran screenwriter, Charles Lederer. Filming finally began in December, but by then the monsoon season had begun, so the entire company packed up and returned to the MGM studios in Culver City, California, to shoot interiors. Around this time, Carol Reed decided this Bounty was doomed to sink and, unlike a real captain, refused to go down with the ship, resigning as the film's director. He was replaced by the Oscar-winning Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front), and the Bounty was set to sail again.
|One of the film's impressive action sequences|
Interiors' filming began at MGM Studios in February 1961 with the company returning to Tahiti for location shooting in late March. Filming dragged on for months, with final scenes shot in October, nearly a full year after initial filming began. Problems with the script were the main concern, although many in the company pointed the finger at Brando and his unprofessional behavior as the real source of delays in filming. Reportedly, Bounty's lead did not get along with director Milestone (Milestone evidently told MGM studio chief Sol Siegel, "This guy Brando is going to ruin you"). According to Milestone's estimate, Brando's behavior cost the film $6 million beyond budget.
Brando was never really satisfied with the script, which was rewritten daily; the actor was more intrigued by the Pitcairn Island section of the film than the actual mutiny (veteran writer Ben Hecht was drafted for this section of the film). Off screen, Brando had an affair with Tarita Teriipia, the local Polyensian restaurant dishwasher selected to portray Maimiti, Fletcher Christian's love interest. The two married in August 1962 after Teriipia became pregnant. Along with his new wife, Brando also fell in love with Tahiti. He eventually purchased a cluster of islands near the film's location. Co-stars Trevor Howard and Richard Harris accused Brando of chronic lateness to the set, and his habit of changing his interpretation of Christian from scene to scene perplexed and irritated the other actors.
Upon completion, the film took the much of 1962 to edit, shape, and market in preparation for its premiere in November. Brando showed up at the film's premiere but left in a huff when his British accent was jeered by the audience. Reviews were pretty scathing, with critics saving most of their vitriol for Brando. While they admired the spectacle of the film, most reviewers felt Brando's unorthodox portrayal--the antithesis of Gable's robust, manly take on Christian--was an embarrassment. Brando tended to see Christian as a foppish--almost effeminate--character, which left audiences and critics bewildered.
Feeling sabotaged by Brando, MGM held him responsible for the movie's enormous cost overruns (final cost was $19 million ... on a $9 million budget). With Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra breaking the Fox studios, even casual moviegoers of the day were fed up with stories of overindulged stars. Brando's reputation had taken a big hit with the cost overruns on his directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks, the year before (original budget $1.8 million, final cost $6 million), and to some he was an easy target to blame for the cost overruns. Although Mutiny on the Bounty nabbed six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, the movie, which grossed $13.6 million (more than $100 million in 2017 dollars), left the studio with roughly half that much. That huge final cost nearly sunk MGM. The studio reported a loss of $17 million the following year (though it was ultimately bailed out in 1965 with the enormous success of Dr. Zhivago).
|"You remarkable pig!"|
Fletcher Christian takes command of the HMS Bounty
My first encounter with Mutiny on the Bounty was an afternoon showing([s]--the movie showed over two days) complete with commercials and pan-and-scan on a 19-inch black and white TV. Despite these drawbacks--some of which I didn't realize at the time--I was enthralled by the movie, especially Brando's unique interpretation of Fletcher Christian. This seems to be the first of several movies (The Missouri Breaks, The Formula, Island of Dr. Moreau to name a few) in which the Method actor went over the top with a performance. In Bounty, while it's true that his British accent comes and goes at times, his performance is a real star turn. Whether battling Bligh, calming the crew, or enjoying Maimiti, for me, the performance is one of Brando's most entertaining. In spite of his entertaining style, however, Brando's reputation as an actor and as a bankable star took a serious hit with Bounty's poor box office and critical drubbing. It was the start of a long, brutal decade of flops (some of them quite good and still undervalued) for the one time red-hot star until 1972's The Godfather put Brando back in the good graces of the Hollywood establishment. Not that he cared. After more than twenty years as a film star, Brando recognized the shallowness of such public displays of affection, as his refusal to accept his Best Actor Oscar in 1973 showed.
|Holding off the Bounty crew's desire for revenge,|
Christian assures Bligh there will be no more bloodshed aboard ship.
In spite of its enduring reputation as a disaster, Mutiny on the Bounty is an extremely enjoyable film. It has scope in its filming and tension in its telling. I imagine that contemporary critics were commenting as much on the behind-the-scenes gossip as on the actual film. Robert Surtees' photography magnificently captures the Bounty's voyage to Tahiti while also framing the dramatic sequences superbly. Bronislaw Kaper provides a majestic film score, while the physical production, including the full scale recreation of the HMS Bounty, is first rate. The script and dialogue are fresh and memorable (Christian to Bligh: "You remarkable pig! You can thank whatever pig god you pray to you haven't turned me into a murderer") and at times witty, and Trevor Howard's Bligh is a worthy adversary. Surprisingly for a film with a three-hour running time that had more than one director, the movie doesn't feel long or sluggish, especially when compared to other epics of the day (Cleopatra, The Alamo, Fall of the Roman Empire). As an historical document I'm sure this version of Bounty, as well as the other two (the 1935 original starring Gable and one from 1984, starring Mel Gibson as Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Bligh are just as good) are lacking in actual fact. Like most films that depict an historical event, dramatic license is inevitable. Today, more than fifty-plus years after its premiere, Mutiny on the Bounty seems impressively well made and very entertaining. Don't believe the naysayers who compare it unfavorably with either the 1935 or the 1984 version; this Bounty sails on as one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
The Films of Marlon Brando by Tony Thomas
Senses of Cinema
Images from the Internet