January 6, 2014

Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty

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The toughest thing about watching a film with multiple acting nominees is that I have terrible difficulty focusing wholly on one performance. I could be watching and absorbing in Actor 1, and once Actor 2 comes into the scene, my train of thought is totally derailed as I try to juggle my analysis of both actors simultaneously. So imagine my difficulty with Mutiny on the Bounty, the first and probably the last film ever to boast three lead actor nominees. Each man's character is different from the other, and each man tackles his role in a different manner to varying levels of success. The performance I had the most trouble in forming an opinion on was Clark Gable's, whom I really enjoyed when I first sat through Mutiny on the Bounty, but whom I also became really disenchanted with after the second run-through, and ever since I've been trying to figure out why.

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Clark Gable makes an excellent hero. The hero of a picture at the very least requires a certain level of masculinity, and Gable's masculinity onscreen is almost palpable. I think I was really taken with him the first time through because he plays the role of the hero rather convincingly--as the ship lieutenant and the only man in the picture willing to stand up to the wretched Captain Bligh's atrocities, it's only natural to like Gable's character. Not only is Gable ridiculously handsome in the film, he also infuses that signature charm of his into Fletcher Christian, so when Christian is having rapports with some of the characters on the ship, one can't help but find him irresistibly likable. So yes, I really enjoyed Gable the first time I watched him, though looking back, my appreciation may have been more at face value.

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-02at120656AM.jpgIn the prior year I've touched on my issues with the performances of leading men. There's the leading man in the most superficial sense, one who's got that star persona and is able to channel all the prerequisites of being a man to anchor a picture and make women swoon. And then there's the leading man who's a more superior actor, who's a real thespian and can act just as well as he can make hearts flutter. That's the root of my issue with Clark Gable in Mutiny on the Bounty. He's handsome enough and charming enough and manly enough for us to buy his heroic schtick as well as connect with his character and cheer him on, but when it comes time to make his character's psychology and motives believable (which is pretty crucial to the film's narrative as we would later find out), he's hardly up to snuff. Ultimately, I feel that Fletcher Christian is a more complicated character than Clark Gable's acting abilities can complement. Whereas It Happened One Night's Peter Warne was a perfect character to highlight all of Gable's masculine tendencies, he ends up being a little too manly for this particular part. He's much too macho to realistically convey the tender moments that Christian has, and not once during his performance did I feel he was vulnerable whatsoever. The problem is that Fletcher Christian is vulnerable. Christian is supposed to be really perturbed by Bligh's actions--but due to rank he is prohibited from acting out. At the same time, Christian is supposed to be this gentle-hearted, do-good kind of guy who becomes so trapped and claustrophobic by Bligh and the Bounty that he's forced to mutiny. In other words, this is man who's driven a little mad, and Gable didn't translate any of that. The film's turning point, in which Christian finally snaps and rallies all his fellow seamen to mutiny, all feels a little undercooked. We get a look of serious frustration towards the sky and a clenched fist and then, just like that, mutiny! Given that mutiny was a crime punishable by death, Gable never really conveyed a steady building of antipathy and claustrophobia that would make us really believe, in that pivotal moment, that he was ready to give up his life to do what's right. It's all a series of agitated expressions with him. By the end of the film, we are all supposed to feel that what Christian is doing--which is heading off to live on a faraway island, to start his life over with a handful of mutineers and Tahitians, never to return to England again--is ultimately the right thing (and the only thing) to do. Instead, I just thought what he was doing was all silly and tragic. And that's primarily because Gable isn't at all efficient in his role outside of playing "the hero". Perhaps in the hand of a more nuanced actor, it'd have all worked out, but in this case, I'd say he was really miscast.


  1. I really liked all three nominated performers from this movie; My favorite would be either Lauhgton or Tone (I never get the talk that his is a supporting performance)

    1. In terms of my ratings, I'd say that 3 statues is my bare minimum for liking a particular performance. I liked Gable...but can't say I loved him, not compared to his work in It Happened One Night.

      And I'm totally on the same boat as you in regards to Tone being lead!

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  3. ^^That is what happens when you try and comment on mobile lol.

    Anyways, what I attempted to say was that I'm rather adverse to Clark Gable in general, It Happened One Night excepted. I don't even like him really in GWTW. I think Mogambo has particularly scarred me. But at least he's pretty :)

    Mutiny interests me because the 3 nominees is so interesting, especially for this type of film. It looks at least somewhat enjoyable & light.

    1. Derek, I totally agree! I never really cared for him in Gone with the Wind, but it's been awhile since I've watched it so I'm prime for a re-watch once 1939 swings by.

      Mutiny's definitely enjoyable and light--which I guess is typical Oscar-fare. Check it out sometime, perhaps you'll like some of them more than I did.