Oscar Movies: Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)–Starring Marlon Brando

MGM’s 1962 re-make of “Mutiny on the Bounty” is a large-scaled production, which, unfortunately, was cursed from the beginning with poor planning, bad luck, egos, and so on. Indeed, corporate indecision, artistic temperaments, unforeseen acts of nature, caused the film to take twice as long as originally planned and a budge that doubled from $8.5 to $18.5. Nonetheless, the movie was not the financial disaster people assumed it to be (it grossed $13 million), and it was not a bad movie either.

From the start, the lingering shadow of the 1935 version, which won the Best Picture Oscar, hovered over the new production. That version was very popular, due to casting of Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. Thus, the decision to remake a well-respected film obviously raised doubts.
The first question was who will play Fletcher Christian? While most approved of Marlon Brando, others felt he was an unusual choice. Even so, Brando was surprisingly good as Christian, playing him as an aristocrat with foppish manner and prissy English accent–sort of the opposite of Clark Gable’s romantic approach
The 1962 film expanded on the 1935 version, allowing for magnificent photography by Robert Surtees, of Tahiti and great seascapes, with more emphasis on what happened to the mutineers after the take-over of the Bounty. This narrative pays less coverage to Bligh’s feat in bringing himself and his 18 supporters to safety; in fact, Bligh, in a 23-foot open boat, sailed a distance of 3,618 nautical miles in 41 days in the South Pacific without losing a single life. 
MGM decided not to use the original script, but to stick closely to the basic historical facts. The studio allotted $750,000 for the building of a replica of the Bounty. Bligh’s vessel was 85 feet long and carried a crew of 62, but the new one was 30 feet longer to allow for the installation of big engines and more space for the cameras. 
The story begins in Portsmouth, in December 1787, when Captain William Bligh receives orders to sail HMS Bounty to Tahiti to transplant breadfruit plans to Jamaica, where they’ll serve as staple in the feeding of plantation slaves. The crew includes a gardener, William Brown (Richard Haydn), who stands in contrast to the rougher sailors with whom he shares quarters. 
Upon meeting for the first time his chief officer, Fletcher Christian, Bligh takes immediate dislike to him. Elegantly dressed, Christian is a well-behaved gentleman, a member of an upper class than Bligh. For his part, Christian shows disdain for this “grocer’s errand.”
As the voyage continues, the bitter and stern disciplinarian Bligh grows to resent even more Christian. The imperious first officer questions Bligh’s manner in handling the men, particularly the flogging of gunner’s mater John Mills (Richard Harris) for stealing of cheese, an unproved charged. Mills spots dissension between Bligh and Christian and tells his peers that they could use it to their advantage. The Bounty seethes with the injustice of brutal sailing conditions for the crew.
An ambitious career officer, eager to win credit for completing his mission in the shortest time, Bligh ignores Christian’s advice and sails the ship around stormy Cape Horn, instead of following the prescribed of Cape of Good Hope, though he’s aware that only one ship has made the trip at this time of year, which cost half of the crew. The Bounty is badly buffeted in the rough seas, and a sailor loses his life when a huge barrel breaks loose. 
Christian tries to save the man, but Bligh objects, claiming he’s wasting time when he should be engaged on deck. 
The rift between the two men grows wider. As a result of being delayed by the stormy seas, the Bounty arrives in Tahiti later than planned, at a time when the breadfruit can’t be moved. This means the bounty needs to spend more time in Tahiti, to the chagrin of Bligh but to the delight of his crew. The British sailors are royally received by Chief Hitihiti (Matahiari Tama) and his aide, Minarii (Frank Silvera). They stage an elaborate feast, with native dancing, and Christian meets Miamiti (Tarita), the chief’s daughter. In a comic moment, the chief expects Christian to make love to his daughter, and Bligh agrees that Christian should “do his duty.”
When the stay in Tahiti ends, the Bounty is loaded with breadfruit. Once at sea, though, trouble again builds up due to Bligh’s harsh treatment of his men. When Christian gives water to a prostrate seaman, Bligh kicks the ladle from his hand. Christian rebels, taking a sword and turning on Bligh. The date is April 28th, 1789. Most want to kill the captain but Christian takes command and releases any officer or crewmember, who doesn’t wish to join the mutiny. Eighteen men choose to leave with Bligh and they are granted lifeboats. As Bligh and his men pull away, the rest of the crew throw the breadfruit overboard. But Christian does not share their joy, realizing that he will never be able to return to England.
As the new captain, Christian sails it back to Tahiti to take on supplies and natives who wish to join them, including Maimiti. Aware that the Royal Navy will send a party to track them down, Christian tells his men they must find a new home; they settle on the island of Pitcairn. Christian then tells his men that they must return to England or remain criminals. Few of the men show interest in returning, and the more militant ones make sure the Bounty will never leave the island by setting fire to the ship. As Christian rushes into the flames to save the sextant he is trapped by falling timbers and severely burned. The men manage to get him off the burning ship, but as the Bounty sinks, Christian dies. His last words to the men are to settle differences and live in peace. At a court martial in England, Bligh is exonerated for the loss of his ship, although the Judge (Henry Daniell) comments on the abuse of rank and the fair treatment of enlisted men.
Reaction to Brando’s Christian was mixed, though most critics praised the last reel, which centers on his agony and death. Trevor Howard’s Bligh was unanimously praised. Visually, the movie is compelling, with thrilling shots of the Bounty under sail, or the staging of the storm and the sequences in Tahiti.
The production was protracted and accident-prone. It began with Eric Ambler as a writer and Carol Reed as a director, but both quit after months of work because their interpretations were at variance with the producer and MGM head offices. But Carol Reed resigned not because of difficulties with Brando. Reed argued with Rosenberg over the concept of Captain Bligh; he didn’t want to see another Laughton-like interpretation. Rosenberg further objected to Reed’s slow pace of filming. Lewis Milestone was then hired as director, and he and Brando were at odds, as soon as shooting resumed, on February 11, 1961, on studio interiors; the company returned to Tahiti at the end of March. In fact, the final scene, Christian’s death, was shot on the studio lot under the direction of Brando.   

Oscar Nominations: 7


Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees

Art Direction (color):


Music Score: Bronislau Kaper

Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.

Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, visual; Milo Lory, audible


Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Best Picture Oscar went to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, which swept most of the awards in 1962.


An Arcola Production, released by MGM.

Produced by Aaron Rosenberg.

Directed by Lewis Milestone.

Screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.

Photographed in Technicolor and Ultra Panavision by Robert L. Surtees.

Art direction by George W. Davis and J. McMillan Johnson.

Edited by John McSweeney, Jr.

Musical score by Bronislau Kaper.

Running time: 179 minutes.




Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando)

Capt. William Bligh (Trevor Howard)

John Mills (Richard Harris)

Alexander Smith (Hugh Griffith)

William Brown (Richard Haydn)

Maimiti (Tarita)

Edward Young (Tim Seely), Matthew Quintal (Percy Herbert), Edward Birkett (Gordon Jackson), William McCoy (Noel Purcell), John Williams (Duncan Lamont), Michael Byrne (Chips Rafferty), Samuel Mack (Ashley Cowan), John Fryer (Eddie Byrne), James Morrison (Keith McConnell), Minarii (Frank Silvera), Graves (Ben Wright), Court Martial Judge (Henry Daniell), Staines (Torin Thatcher), Chief Hitihiti (Matahiarii Tama)