Based (Loosely) on a True Story
"Can you understand this, Mr. Byam? Discipline is the thing. A seaman's a seaman. A captain's a captain. And a midshipman, Sir Joseph or no Sir Joseph, is the lowest form of animal life in the British Navy...
—Captain William Bligh, 1935 version
, this is a classic novel so fondly remembered they filmed it twice (In fact, there's even a remake of the book). The first version, with Clark Gable
and Charles Laughton
, was the 1935 Oscar-Winner for Best Picture. The second adaptation of the novel, with Marlon Brando
, was 1962's most notorious flop.
Both films tell the true story of a mutiny on the ship, the Bounty.
In 1789, the small British naval ship HMS Bountynote
is sent to Tahiti under the command of Lieutenant William Bligh with the mission of bringing breadfruit plants to the Caribbean. The crew spends five months in the South Pacific island paradise while the plants grow, and the British sailors become accustomed to the good life there, basking in the sun and enjoying the company of the friendly natives (especially the women).
When the time comes to leave, the men have a hard time readjusting to the "jack tar" life of a sailor, especially under the command of their sharp-tongued Lieutenant. A few weeks after setting sail, a mutiny breaks out with second-in-command Fletcher Christian as the leader. Lieutenant Bligh is set adrift in an open launch with just over half the men and, in an impressive feat of seamanship, is able to navigate to the safety of Dutch-held Timor with only a sextant and a pocket watch.
The mutineers initially return to Tahiti. Some stay there, knowing they will be tried (and possibly executed) as soon as the next British ship arrives. 9 of the 22 mutineers (including Fletcher Christian), intending to evade capture, take the Bounty and head for the very isolated Pitcairn Island in the company of several Tahitian men and women. After reaching their goal and intending to start a new life, they burn the Bounty.
While most adaptations break off at this point, the drama actually continued for the mutineers and their companions, resulting in a decidedly non-happy ending for most: After several years on Pitcairn, violence broke out between the mutineers and the Tahitian men, and ultimately the women too. Almost all of the island's men, including Christian, died in these fights, while some others were killed by accidents, disease and excessive alcohol consumption. The net result was that when the island was first visited again in 1808, only one of the men, John Adams, was still alive, along with nine of the women and a number of children. The descendants of the mutineers continue to live on Pitcairn to this day.
See also The Bounty
, a 1984 film that did not use the Mutiny on the Bounty
novels but instead told a more historically accurate version of the real-life mutiny.
The Various Film Adaptations Contain Examples Of:
- Bad Ass: Bligh (1935 particularly)
- The Captain
- The Determinator: Bligh. He guided his men three thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean in an open boat with the loss of only one crewmember.
- The Drunken Sailor: The ship surgeon
- A Father to His Men: Fletcher Christian
- The Film of the Book: The 1935 and 1962 film versions.
- Happily Ever Before: The films end after the arrival of the mutineers on Pitcairn, but before the fights that left all but one of the men on the island dead.
- Harmony Versus Discipline: Tahiti vs. Bligh
- Historical Hero Upgrade: In the 1935 and 1962 films; see Very Loosely Based On A True Story below. The historical Fletcher Christian's heroic credentials are rather questionable, as his actions can be directly traced as a root cause for the problems on Pitcairn Island and all that entails.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The historical Bligh did things like flogging that seem barbaric to modern viewers but he was no more brutal than your average 18th century Royal Navy captain. In fact, his comparatively lenient treatment of the crew (as well as the lack of marines on board) may have emboldened the mutineers. The real reason for the mutiny was not mistreatment by Bligh, but the fact that the crew, after having spent quite a long break enjoying R&R on Tahiti, didn't want to be sailors anymore.
- The Mutiny: It's pretty famous.
- Na´ve Newcomer: Roger Byam (1935 and 1962), before becoming a A Father to His Men
- The Neidermeyer: Captain Bligh (1935 and 1962)
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Clark Gable, as Fletcher Christian, doesn't sound so British.
- Officer and a Gentleman
- Press-Ganged: The 1935 film starts with Christian leading a party from the Bounty which scoops up a bunch of sailors in a pub and forcibly enlists them.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Clark Gable lays down with a native girl on Tahiti. There's a cut to dancing at a festival dinner. Then a cut back to Gable and his girl, apparently post-coital.
- Stealing from the Till: In the 1935 film Bligh admits straight-up to Christian that he is skimming off the supplies that should go to the men, and instead selling them in order to line his pockets.
- A Taste of the Lash: In both films, and an Establishing Character Moment in the 1935 film. A sailor being flogged has died before the flogging has been completed. Bligh orders the man with the whip to continue flogging the corpse.
- Charles Laughton seems to do this whenever he gets bored.
- Toplessness from the Back: The 1935 film pushes Fanservice in The Thirties as far as it will go when Christian's and Byam's girlfriends come out of the water after a swim.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Don't watch the 1935 or 1962 films if you want a documentary on the actual 1789 event. Oddly enough, a Very Loosely Based on a True Story documentary version, In the Wake of the Bounty, was made in 1933; Fletcher Christian was played by none other than Errol Flynn in his very first movie role.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men