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Film / Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

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Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 historical drama film directed by Lewis Milestone, starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris. It is one of many works about the mutiny on HMAV Bounty in 1789, loosely adapted by screenwriter Charles Lederer from the novel of the same name.

Under the command of Captain William Bligh (Howard), the Royal Navy vessel HMAV Bounty departs from Portsmouth on a voyage to Tahiti in December 1787. The purpose of the trip is to harvest the breadfruit plant, abundant on Tahiti, and take it to the British West Indies where it can be used as cheap food for Britain's slaves. Captain Bligh is a monstrous martinet who pilfers from the ship's stores and pins the blame on a sailor, John Mills (Harris), whom he flogs. Actions such as these earn Bligh the withering contempt of his patrician first mate, Fletcher Christian (Brando), who is loved by the men as much as Bligh is hated.


After a grueling voyage the Bounty makes it to Tahiti. The beach and fruit trees and gorgeous island girls are a welcome change after the brutal outbound voyage. Christian falls in love with Maimiti, the beautiful daughter of the king of Tahiti. But the ship eventually has to leave, and Bligh grows even more vicious and cruel, taking delight when a sailor dies from keelhauling. Finally, Christian leads a mutiny.

The last film directed by Milestone, whose career dated back to the silent era. See also Mutiny on the Bounty, a 1935 version of the story with Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Christian, and The Bounty, a more historically-accurate 1984 version with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian.



  • Adaptational Heroism: Fletcher Christian is shown to be an idealist on the side of liberty and justice. In reality, his motives were far more selfish, and there was plenty of blame to go around between him and Bligh when it came to moral responsibility for the mutiny.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In reality, William Bligh was not a cruel sadist who took pleasure in tormenting his crew or having men beaten for trivial or non-existent offenses (in fact, he was actually more lenient than many other captains when it came to corporal punishment). Nor was he a dishonest thief who stole the ship's rations for personal use while blaming the theft on sailors. Bligh did have a short temper and poor interpersonal skills that ultimately led to his downfall.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The women of Tahiti, all of whom really want sex with British sailors. Brown in his narration says that the Tahitian women considered pale skin beautiful.
  • As You Know: When Bligh in the launch says they'll make for Timor, a startled Fryer says "That's nearly four thousand miles away, sir." That's to tell the audience how difficult the trip in an open boat will be. (In Real Life they made it with the loss of only one man, killed by natives when Bligh made landfall at an island.)
  • Blood from the Mouth: The blood from Thomas Norman's mouth shows how serious it is when a water cask falls on him. He's pronounced dead soon after. (The reason the water cask fell was that Bligh ordered the ship returned to full speed, after Christian had ordered the ship to slow down so they could lash down water casks loose in the cargo hold.)
  • Burning the Ships: The men burn the Bounty to keep Christian from sailing it back to Tahiti.
  • Call-Forward: Brando says "we shall never find contentment on this island", and it turned out that he was quite right, as the Englishmen and Tahitian men on Pitcairn set about murdering each other until within a few years two mutineers were the only men left alive. One of them later died of natural causes, leaving only one mutineer alive, along with a bunch of women and children, to greet the American whaling ship that stopped by 20 years later.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Alluded to and ultimately averted. When a junior officer notes that Bligh has not spent one night on shore while the rest of the ship's company has been cavorting with Tahitian women, Bligh says that captains can't do stuff like that, that a captain can't enforce discipline on "his partner in a debauch." But he follows up that comment by saying "I prefer it that way," because in the end he doesn't like anybody and has no desire for comradeship with his officers and men.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Maimiti, who falls in love with Christian. Through no fault of her own she helps bring on the mutiny.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Christian takes a quick dislike to Bligh, and spends the rest of the voyage making snarky comments.
    Christian: [to Bligh, during a storm] Bad news, sir, your cabin's completely awash. [smirks]
    Christian [after Bligh orders him to have sex with Maimiti—It Makes Sense in Context] Well sir, it is rather different than having to fight for one's country. [smirks]
  • Establishing Character Moment: Fletcher Christian reports to the ship dressed like a ridiculous fop, with a silver suit, red cape, top hat, and cane, and accompanied by two sexy girls. In other words, about as far away from Clark Gable as you can get. Christian is shown to be someone who doesn't take Navy life so seriously.
  • A Father to His Men: Christian, as opposed to The Neidermeyer Bligh. Christian advocates for just treatment of the men and humane punishment, which sets him at odds with Bligh the monster.
  • Godiva Hair: Used by the island women to provide Fanservice while still conforming to censorship standards. Strategically placed leis are also employed.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Christian. He was a mutineer and pirate, after all. And given that Captain Bligh was just a garden-variety Royal Navy captain, the real reason Christian led the mutiny and set a boat full of men adrift in the open ocean was because he wanted to go back to his girlfriend. In Real Life none of the Tahitians who went to Pitcairn with the Bounty went willingly: Christian kidnapped twenty of them when he cut the mooring lines in Tahiti and set sail without warning, which he did for the express purpose of taking the 14 Tahitian women then on the ship. And he certainly didn't have some attack of conscience on Pitcairn where he suggested going back to England.
    • A lesser example with mutineer Matthew Quintal. In this movie Quintal is a decent enough fellow who apologizes to Mills before flogging him on Bligh's orders. The real Matthew Quintal was by all accounts a monstrous brute. He was one of the last three men surviving on Pitcairn, but mutineers Adams and Young felt compelled to murder him because he was a danger to the community.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: This Captain Bligh is a monstrous sadist and sociopath, as with most adaptations of the story. The real William Bligh was no more brutal than any other Royal Navy captain—he never flogged one man the whole voyage. He certainly didn't embezzle from ship's stores. The real reason the mutiny happened was 1) the sailors had gone native and wanted to go back to Tahiti, and 2) there were no Royal Marines on board for security, as was the usual case for larger Royal Navy ships.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Or so Bligh claims. He justifies flogging Mills by telling his officers that "fear—fear of what you'll do to him" is the only thing that motivates a Royal Navy sailor to obey his officers. This claim of Bligh's is eventually revealed to be BS on multiple levels, not only because Mills took the cheese to Bligh's house on Bligh's orders, and not only because Bligh clearly gets personal satisfaction from cruelty, but because his cruelty fosters the mutiny.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: "I'll overlook what I heard this time, Mills," says Christian, after Mills makes a pointed comment about how Bligh will kill half the crew before they reach Tahiti. The reason Christian overlooks it is that he privately agrees, as Mills, who is trying to egg Christian on to mutiny, knows.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: The women of Tahiti, raised in a tropical island culture with no nudity taboo and no sexual hang-ups. They have a powerful effect on the lonely, horny British sailors.
  • Insubstantial Ingredients: As the sailors enjoy the sound of Tahitian women singing, a cheerful Alexander Smith says "They sound just like wine tastes."
  • Intermission: Acts as an act break as was common in epic films of the era. In this movie the intermission comes right after Mills, arrested for desertion, tells his fellow deserters that they can get Christian to turn on Bligh.
  • I Will Wait for You: So says Maimiti to Fletcher Christian when the Bounty is about to depart. A broken-hearted Christian says not to wait, as he won't ever be coming back. But of course eventually he does.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: The Admiralty court acquits Bligh of any blame, because he acted in accordance with the articles of war. Then they explain to him why he was a bad captain.
    "We cannot rebuke an officer who has administered discipline according to the articles of war but the articles are fallible, as any articles are bound to be. No code can cover all contingencies. We cannot put justice aboard our ships in books. Justice and decency are carried in the heart of the captain, or they be not aboard."
    • As noted on the trope page for Machiavelli Was Wrong, what Machiavelli actually says in his book is that while it's better to be feared than loved, a prince must at all costs avoid fostering hatred. Captain Bligh didn't read that part, as the hatred he arouses in his men leads them to mutiny.
  • The Mutiny: It's pretty famous. In this version it is basically a Rage Quit by Christian. After Bligh kicks the ladle out of his hand as Christian is trying to give water to a dying Williams, Christian snaps, knocks Bligh to the deck right there, and mutinies on the spur of the moment without any planning.note 
  • Narrator: Brown, the botanist sent to harvest the breadfruit plants, narrates.
  • The Neidermeyer: William Bligh, an evil sadist. The men mutiny and throw him off the ship, and nearly murder him.
  • Ocean Madness: Williams, who has been drinking sea water, goes mad. This is after Bligh has radically reduced the water ration to the men in order to keep all the breadfruit plants alive.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The film suffers from a rather ridiculous ending in which Christian has a Heel–Face Turn and decides that the mutineers should sail back to England and denounce Bligh in a proper Admiralty court. The men respond to this idea by setting the ship on fire, and Christian dies attempting to save the ship. This is all fictional—details of Christian's death are murky, but it is known that he died later, during the cycles of violence that killed off almost all the men on Pitcairn.
  • Stealing from the Till: The first signal that Bligh is a really bad guy and not just a hard-ass captain is when he's revealed to have stolen cheese from the ship's stores and sent it to his own home. And then when this is revealed he has Mills flogged for it.
  • Take That!: The Admiralty board delivers one to Bligh at the end of the hearing. After acquitting him of blame for the mutiny they say they erred in not appointing a "gentleman" as captain. Bligh, a self-made commoner who despises the upper crust and despises Christian for being part of the upper crust, doesn't take that well.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Bligh derives sadistic glee from flogging sailors, even when he knows their innocent, even when it's for something that he did.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Pushes Fanservice in The '60s as far as it will go by having lots and lots and lots of gorgeous island women running around Topless From The Back in every scene on Tahiti. One notable scene, where the sailors first meet the women, has the camera pan down a whole line of Topless From The Back Tahitian girls as the gleeful sailors dash out into the water to join them.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: The sailors marvel at how the Tahitian men don't care if the English bonk the women—in fact, King Hitihiti is offended when Christian does not have sex with his daughter—but it is strictly forbidden for the men to sit down and share a meal with the women.