The movie tells the story about the cruelty and inhumanity that happened on the ship, especially by the Captain, and which ultimately led to uproar by the crew. The movie does a great job in portraying the tension on the ship and how obedience is slowly turned into the opposite. It demonstrates how the traditions that have shaped the command structure are strong enough to maintain order for most of the journey despite all kinds of ill-treatments until the members of the crew won’t accept it anymore. For some parts, most of the crew members are presented in rather two-dimensional ways but the three leading actors are constantly the ones who redefine the tone of the movie and serve as its different voices. On the one side is Charles Laughton as the acerb and merciless Captain Bligh, on the other side is Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, the man who starts the mutiny. In the middle is Franchot Tone as Byam who doesn’t think much of Bligh’s leadership but who also believes in duty and the indefeasible power of the Captain. All three actors do fantastic work in their parts. Charles Laughton is probably the one who steals the show as he is basically flawless in bringing the unlikable sides of his character to the screen while always showing Bligh’s sense of self-importance which has come from his role as Captain. Clark Gable gives a typical ‘Clark-Gable-performance’ in which he uses his screen personality to form a character that fits him just right. For some reason Franchot Tone’s performance has gone down in history as the reason why the Supporting Oscars were installed since his was a clear supporting role that managed to be nominated in the leading category – well, nothing could be further from the truth since his part is undoubtedly equal to Gable’s and Laughton’s and probably even lager. His character serves as the middle ground in the story, a man torn to both sides. And not only his character is of equal importance, but Franchot Tone also easily holds his own against his co-stars and gives a very memorable performance that peaks in his final speech before the court.
The movie’s flaws are mostly the scene on the tropic island. It’s nice to see the men have fun on the beach and enjoy the company of the native girls but these scenes harshly interrupt the tension that Lloyd had been building up to these moments. If those scenes had been better they might have served an important role in the picture and emphasized the sharp contrast to the life on the ship but as they are written and presented they mostly feel too out-of-place.
Mutiny on the Bounty works best during all the scenes on the ship. Lloyd perfectly creates a sense of injustice and knows how to get the viewer emotionally involved in the battle of wills that is going on. At the same time, the character of Bligh, even though clearly presented as the villain of this piece, never feels exaggerated or limited and Charles Laughton’s performance helps to make his view on the matter just as understandable.
The historical facts may be more than inaccurate but Mutiny on the Bounty is still a very strong presentation of the typical ‘fight against tyranny’-theme.