Mutiny on the Bounty (1962 film)

Mutiny on the Bounty

Original film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg (uncredited)
Written by Charles Lederer
Based on Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Starring Marlon Brando
Trevor Howard
Richard Harris
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Editing by John McSweeney, Jr.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) November 8, 1962
Running time 178 min.
(UK:185 min.)
Country US
Language English
Budget $19 million approx.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 film starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard based on the novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The film retells the 1789 real-life mutiny aboard HMAV Bounty led by Fletcher Christian against the ship's captain, William Bligh. It is the second American film to be made from the novel, the first being Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). It was directed by Lewis Milestone, who replaced Carol Reed early on location shooting. The screenplay was written by Charles Lederer (with uncredited input from Eric Ambler, William L. Driscoll, Borden Chase, John Gay and Ben Hecht).[1]

Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed in the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process, the first motion picture so credited. It is notable for its location photography in the South Pacific and its musical score by Bronisław Kaper.



In 1787, the Bounty sets sail from England for Tahiti under the command of captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard). Her mission is to transport breadfruit to Jamaica, where hopefully it will thrive and provide a cheap source of food for the slaves.

The difficult voyage gets off to a difficult start with the discovery that some cheese is missing. Bligh, the true pilferer, is accused of the theft by seaman John Mills (Richard Harris), and Bligh has Mills brutally flogged for showing contempt to his superior officer, to the disgust of his patrician second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando). The tone for the months to come is summarized by Bligh's ominous pronouncement that "cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty, it is efficiency." Aristocrat Christian is deeply offended by his ambitious captain.

Bligh attempts to reach Tahiti sooner by attempting the shorter westbound route around Cape Horn, a navigational nightmare. The strategy fails and the Bounty backtracks east, costing the mission much time. Singleminded Bligh attempts to make up the lost time by pushing the crew harder and cutting their rations.

When the Bounty reaches her destination, the crew revels in the easygoing life of the tropical paradise — and in the free-love philosophies of the Tahitian women. Christian himself is smitten with Maimiti (Tarita), daughter of the Tahitian king. Bligh's agitation is further fueled by a dormancy period of the breadfruit: more months of delay until the plants can be transplanted. As departure day nears, three men, including seaman Mills, attempt to desert but are caught by Christian and clapped in irons by Bligh.

On the return voyage, Bligh attempts to bring back twice the number of breadfruit plants to atone for his tardiness, and must reduce the water rations of the crew to water the extra plants. One member of the crew falls from the rigging to his death while attempting to retrieve the drinking ladle. Another assaults Bligh over conditions on the ship and is fatally keelhauled. Mills taunts Christian after each death, trying to egg him on to challenge Bligh. When a crewmember becomes gravely ill from drinking seawater, Christian attempts to give him fresh water in violation of the Captain's orders. Bligh strikes Christian when he ignores his second order to stop. In response, Christian strikes Bligh. Bligh informs Christian that he will hang for his action when they reach port. With nothing left to lose, Christian takes command of the ship and sets Bligh and the loyalist members of the crew adrift in the longboat with navigational equipment, telling them to make for a local island. Bligh decides instead to cross much of the Pacific in order to reach British authorities sooner and arrives back in England with remarkable speed.

Christian sails back to Tahiti to pick up the girlfriends of the crew, then on to remote and wrongly-charted Pitcairn Island to hide from the wrath of the Royal Navy. Once on Pitcairn, Christian decides that it is their duty to return to England and testify to Bligh's wrongdoing and asks his men to sail with him. To prevent this possibility they set the ship on fire and Christian is fatally burned while trying to save it.



All three films based on the Nordhoff and Hall novel (1933, 1935 and 1962) have considerable variations from actual historical events. Some of those in the 1962 film include:

  • The film has Bligh and Christian meeting for the first time; in reality, they had sailed together before.[2]
  • In the movie, Christian is second-in-command; in reality, he was Master's mate.[2]
  • Bligh is older in the movie than he was in real life. In the actual mutiny he was 33; Trevor Howard was 47 during most of the filming.[2]
  • Though minor, the sailing of the Bounty from England was not on a sunny, clear day with the wind at their backs. But rather, Bligh made several failed attempts in rather stormy, squally weather fighting the wind and the waves out of the harbor and channel and was deeply upset over the Admiralty's delay in allowing him to get underway on time.[2]
  • Bligh was asleep during the initial stages of the uprising; the movie shows him as awake and on deck.[2]
  • Bligh is also seen as cruel, or at least ruthless, when in truth he was unusually progressive for a Royal Navy officer of his time and he cared for his crew. He noted carefully the decent rations and overall good health and morale of the crew, even to the point of requiring dances and music each evening to help keep the crew's spirits up.[2] Bligh scolded when other captains would have flogged, and he flogged when other captains would have hanged, and he failed to maintain discipline on the island of Tahiti, allowing the crew to engage in sexual relations with the natives at will.
  • The film portrays Bligh attempting a quicker route around Cape Horn when the Admiralty directed him to sail around the Cape of Good Hope when in reality it was just the reverse.[2]
  • The records do not validate anyone being "Keel Hauled" for stealing water or lashed for accusing their captain of being "a thief".[2]
  • William Brown is listed as the gardener and mutineer. He was, however, only the assistant gardener; the real gardener, David Nelson, is entirely written out of this version.[2]
  • Bligh was actually the only commissioned officer aboard and held the rank of lieutenant. However, as the ranking officer and commander of the ship, he was referred to as "captain" out of courtesy and respect.[2]
  • Christian is seen as resolute and decisive, when in reality he was indecisive and suffered from a nervous disposition.[2]
  • In the movie, Bligh's acquittal at his court-martial comes with a considerably negative statement attached. In reality, William Bligh was hailed as a hero for his courage and his astonishing feat of navigation in getting the Bounty loyalists home.[2]
  • Christian dies at the end of the film, not from being murdered as in real life, but as a result of burns suffered while trying to save a sextant left on the Bounty after the other mutineers had set the ship on fire. However, the murky historical evidence that exists suggests that he lived on the island for several years before being killed; some even contend that he eventually returned to England some years later, a difficult proposition given the distances involved and remoteness of the island in the 18th century world.[2]


  • The very first filming of the story predated the well-known 1935 Irving Thalberg/M-G-M version: it was a 1915 silent Australian picture. There was also a 1933 Australian film In the Wake of the Bounty, a primitive, studio-bound early talkie most notable as the first picture made by future star Errol Flynn, who played Fletcher Christian.
  • The 1962 film has become legendary for Brando's behaviour during filming. Allegedly, this was what led to Carol Reed's departure, and caused confrontations with Lewis Milestone. According to fellow actor Richard Harris, Brando got along badly with several cast members, including Harris himself. Brando would even reportedly rewrite portions of the script to his liking from day to day, leaving the rest of the cast bewildered as to what was to be filmed. According to the biography by Peter Manso, Brando's antics included pulling members of the film crew away from the set to work on the decorations for a friend's wedding in Tahiti and flying airplane loads of expensive food and drinks to the island for parties he would throw. The press accused Brando of throwing the film into weeks of overbudget, but Brando denied this and said the producers made a few mistakes as well that made the film's release late.
  • In order to prepare for the scene of Fletcher Christian's death at the close of the movie, Brando, already no stranger to method acting, reportedly lay on blocks of ice for several minutes at a time to accurately simulate the tremors of a burn victim.
  • Brando later married Tarita Teriipia, who played Maimiti in the film.
  • The 1962 version of the film is the only one of the three in which Christian never appears shirtless. In fact, Marlon Brando is portrayed in the somewhat ridiculous position of lying with the chief's daughter in the bushes, clad in full naval uniform.
  • The working replica of Bounty built for the movie, Bounty II, appeared at the 1964 World's Fair in New York and still survives today. It was built to Admiralty plans, but one third larger to accommodate the filming crew and equipment. In the summer of 2007 it sailed to Britain and visited several ports, although not in "Bounty" trim: masquerading as the pirate ship The Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, its deception was spotted by a young boy and reported in the British press.[3] In 2011 the replica was located in Norway, and offered for sale at a price of US $4,600,000.
  • When the movie finally premiered in the U.S., it opened to mostly negative reviews. Although it was the sixth-highest grossing film of 1962, it lost money because of its runaway budget.


The 1962 movie did not win any Oscars but was nominated for seven:[4]


External links

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