January 2, 2014

Mutiny on the Bounty

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After suffering through The Divine Lady, Berkeley Square, and the dreadful Cavalcade, I now saw myself face to face what I'm fairly certain is director Frank Lloyd's last major Oscar-nominated picture. As it would turn out, Mutiny on the Bounty is by far the easiest film of the four to watch, so I leave Frank Lloyd's Oscar legacy on a positive note. But that's not to say that the film is without its flaws.

Let's start off with the casting. If there's one thing you were to have retained from Berkeley Square and Cavalcade, it's that Frank Lloyd is a proud patriot of Britannia. Mutiny on the Bounty is no less an English tale as the other two pictures, but for some reason the producers decided to put Americans Franchot Tone and Clark Gable into two of the three lead roles. And these men aren't going to bother trying to fake an accent a la Bette Davis. So there's something that definitely ain't right from the start as we see Clark Gable decked out in English naval/shipman attire, talking to secondary actors who are very clearly from the U.K. in the same New Yorker voice you hear him yelling in It Happened One Night. But nothing really tops Franchot Tone's unaltered accent, which just about screams "American" as much as a bald eagle draped in the American flag eating a slice of apple pie at a Yankees game. Now that's not to say that the performances of Gable and Tone are lessened by this accentual conflict of interest, but it's really rather ridiculous the few times when they have to refer to themselves as Englishmen, and it takes a viewer outside of the picture as a whole. Given that Berkeley Square and Cavalcade had entirely British and English casts, I find the casting choices very strange (which may have been even stranger if Wallace Beery, the first choice for Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh, agreed to take the role). Sure, Mutiny on the Bounty was an expensive film to make, so obviously producers are going to cast an actor who'd had a great string of hits that year (Tone) and an actor hot off an Oscar win (Gable) to try and nab maximum box office profits. And sure, authenticity isn't exactly something that the Golden Era of Hollywood strived for. But I just think that you could have put in the likes of Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard into those parts and it wouldn't have deterred box office figures much at all, not to mention that the picture would have maintained its integrity.

Now I was struck with deja vu seeing all these seamen and images of ships and sails--where have I seen this before? Oh yeah, The Divine Lady!!! Unfortunately, like the former picture I wasn't really taken by much of the imagery...incessant long shots of a ship sailing at sea aren't going to impress this 2013 viewer. And overall I think Frank Lloyd's direction is rather uninspired. For example, a number of characters hype up Captain Bligh as this terrible man during the first ten or so minutes of the film, and once we are finally introduced to him it is done so in extreme long shot where we see this little figure walk up the ship, followed by another long shot of Charles Laughton's head and shoulders amongst forty or so other heads and shoulders on the ship, and you can barely decipher him. This is how you establish your big evil villain? No, this is the work of a director who's not very...visionary. And again, much like Cavalcade, there are several characters we are introduced to with varying individual story lines that are pushed in for dramatic effect but are subsequently forgotten about. There is the ship surgeon who just suddenly gets sick and dies without warning. There's a sailer named Ellison who has a separate storyline about being separated from his wife and son, and not only does the film decide to subtly have him hanged in the end, it finishes off his story in a few seconds where Ellison merely tells someone "I saw my wife and kid". The film even reveals that Byam has married a Tahitian girl but doesn't seem to indicate in the end whether or not he'll return back to Tahiti to get her.

Now perhaps it seems like I really dislike the picture. That's not true--the film was certainly entertaining and well acted and I was never bored. But I think the overall story of Mutiny on the Bounty comes with a certain level of excitement by default, and it was just executed poorly in the hands of the ever-frustrating Frank Lloyd. The man always has grandiose ambitions but he always tries to encompass more than he can handle. The film is certainly not as bad as Lloyd's previous Best Picture winner, but does it deserve the title of the Best Picture of 1935? I'm not so sure.

And before I leave you, a silly little notice: for some reason I couldn't shake this idea of there being a little bit of homoeroticism between Fletcher and Byam. Perhaps it's because Byam is always smiling at Fletcher just alittlebit longer than he should be...but if the picture of the two above doesn't seal the deal for you...I leave you with a still of what they did right afterwards:
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They eat bananas. 

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