Jan 10, 2014

Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty

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Take a look at all of Mutiny on the Bounty's posters and you will see Franchot Tone's name placed humbly below the large and vivid LAUGHTON and GABLE print. Take a look at the film's DVD and Blu-Ray covers, and even its old VHS tape covers, and Tone's face is never to be seen. It seems as though he has become the forgotten man out of the Oscar-nominated triumvirate, and if Mutiny on the Bounty were released today, Tone (and let's be honest...probably Charles Laughton as well) would almost certainly be campaigned for the Supporting Actor category. I've stumbled across a few sites that've mentioned that Tone's nomination is one of the reasons why AMPAs installed Supporting Actor and Actress categories the following year, and that couldn't be further from the truth--firstly because Inside Oscar cites that then-Academy president Frank Capra decided to install those supporting categories to nab interest from the many actors who had withdrawn from the Academy during that time due to guild disagreements, and secondly because Tone's role and performance is just as pivotal to the narrative than those of Laughton and Gable.

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What struck me the most about Franchot Tone's performance was how natural his acting style was compared to his fellow leading men. There isn't that rapid-fire line delivery we get from Clark Gable and so many other leading men from Hollywood's Golden Era (so off-putting in this film as I could only think of a New York reporter while staring at an English ship lieutenant from 1787). There isn't the stagey theatrical delivery we get from Charles Laughton. In fact, after a tiny bit of research, I found out that Tone was originally a member of the Group Theatre, a collective which was co-founded by none other than Lee Strasberg, the father of method acting himself. So Tone's performance in the film is a restrained yet refreshing one, made all the more striking especially since he is caught in between two very raucous actors.

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-02at15512AM.jpgThere's a very organic energy to the way Tone speaks, and when he is forced to say laughable lines such as, "the voyage of the bounty!...Still waters and the great, golden sea. Flying fish like streaks of silver and mermaids that sing in the night...", he manages to do it with impressive aplomb. When Byam is rescued from the masthead on the Bounty by Fletcher only to be sent back up by Bligh not long after, Tone's angry reaction is complemented with a few cracks to his voice--the way he works his voice in the film makes his work so much more heartfelt than anything Gable and Laughton are able to do. Byam's big monologue near the end of the film is poignant because of the way Tone works his voice--for much of the film Byam is an idealistic lad, and within that monologue one can see him unravel with such a delicate restraint. At this point in the film he is no longer that smiling youngster we meet in the beginning, and it's amazing how he is able to show this by summoning so much pathos and genuine feeling...I really do feel that he is the heart and soul to this movie. This naturalness in Tone's acting does a very good job at humanizing Byam--Fletcher is such a hero archetype and Bligh is inauthentically inhumane that it's much easier to connect with Tone. Tone was said to have been frustrated with the types of roles he was given at M-G-M, thinking that the studio was underutilizing his talents. And unfortunately he seems to be more known as Joan Crawford's ex-husband than for his acting talents. If you look at his career, it's apparent that Tone was always more of a second-lead than an actual leading man, but nevertheless I am glad that he was recognized for his work here as a Best Actor nominee...because this performance is a hidden gem, and the man deserves to be forever known in the annals of Oscar history as a contender for Lead Actor, because watching him here I know that he had had it in him to be just that.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you. He was the heart and soul of this film.