Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A great adventure

I read the Nordhoff & Hall trilogy (Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn Island) while in elementary school. Later I saw the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty starring Charles Laughton as a particularly sadistic Captain Bligh, and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. The story is historical and there have been several movies based on it. In 1962 a film starred Marlon Brando as a rather effete Christian, and Trevor Howard as Bligh. That one, I didn't care for. Last night, for the first time, I watched the third movie about the mutiny: The Bounty (1984) with a script by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons), starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh, and a young-looking Mel Gibson as Christian. I'm sorry I missed it forty years ago. It is probably the most accurate recounting of the actual events. And it is entertaining. Note: there is a lot of native nudity in the Tahiti scenes. Roger Ebert gave the film a "thumbs up" in 1984:
The relationship between Fletcher Christian and Captain William Bligh is one of the most familiar in the movies: We've seen it acted between Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, and between Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, but it's never before been quite as intriguing as in "The Bounty," the third movie based on the most famous mutiny in the history of the sea. The movie suggests that Bligh and Christian were friends, of all things, and that Bligh — far from being the histrionic martinet of earlier movies — was an intelligent, contemplative man of great complications. The story is well-known, and simple: HMS Bounty sets sail for the South Seas, has a difficult voyage that frays everyone's tempers, and then anchors at a Polynesian island. During the trip, the original first mate has been replaced by the young Fletcher Christian, whom Bligh decides to trust. But Christian tires of the voyage and of the dangers and probable death that lie ahead. He falls in love with a native girl and leads a mutiny of sailors who choose to stay on their island paradise. ....

This Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well. Although this third Bounty film was originally conceived as a big-budget, two-part epic to be directed by David (Doctor Zhivago) Lean, the current version was prepared and directed after only a few months' notice by a talented young New Zealander named Roger Donaldson....

The sea voyage is done with the sort of macho confidence that a good sea movie needs, and the land portions do an interesting job of contrasting the proper, civilized British ... with the cheerful absolute freedom of Polynesia. The romance between Gibson and the beautiful Tevaite Vernette, as his island lover, is given time to develop instead of just being thrown in as a plot point. And the Polynesians, for once, are all allowed to go topless all the time (the movie nevertheless gets the PG rating, qualifying under the National Geographic loophole in which nudity doesn't count south of the equator). The Bounty is a great adventure, a lush romance, and a good movie.

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