AFI Movie Club: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962) – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY’s tyrannical Captain Bligh ranked #19 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list of the greatest villains of all time. The film’s Fletcher Christian, played by Marlon Brando, was named by AFI as one of cinema’s most iconic screen legends. 

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MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY – Reelgood

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Movie Trivia About Today’s Film

DID YOU KNOW? MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is based on a 1932 novel of the same name by Charles Bernard Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The film is also a remake of the Academy Award®-winning 1935 MGM screen adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. The story is a fictionalized account of a historical mutiny against Captain William Bligh in 1789, on the HMS Bounty. 

DID YOU KNOW? After the box office and critical success of the 1935 version of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, a sequel was planned featuring Captain Bligh, starring Spencer Tracy and Charles Laughton, but it never went into production. Another attempt at a follow-up movie was about Lt. Fletcher Christian’s life on Pitcairn Island, but that also never came to fruition. 

DID YOU KNOW? Carol Reed was originally hired to helm MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY – and in fact had started directing the picture – when he was replaced by Lewis Milestone. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY marks the first motion picture in history to be shot in Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen. 

DID YOU KNOW? Marlon Brando earned $500,000 for his role as Lt. Fletcher Christian in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, plus another 10% of the film’s profits. At the time, this was a staggeringly high salary for a starring actor. Brando mentioned in his memoirs that he chose MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY over the titular role in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA so he could film on location in Tahiti. 

DID YOU KNOW? MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY introduced Marlon Brando to Tahiti, where he took out a 99-year lease on the small island of Tetiaroa. It was there that Brando also courted his third wife – actress Tarita Teriipaia – during the production. 

DID YOU KNOW? According to producer Aaron Rosenberg, it was Marlon Brando’s idea to make Captain Bligh a minor role, and to focus instead on the crew after the mutiny. However, MGM was unhappy with Eric Ambler’s early drafts and brought on five other writers to take over different sections of the film. Although Charles Lederer receives sole writing credit onscreen, additional writers on the project included Eric Ambler, William L. Driscoll, Borden Chase, John Gay and Ben Hecht. 

DID YOU KNOW? It took nine months to build a replica of the Bounty, at the cost of $750,000. Delays in construction resulted in a setback of principal photography, which began a month late on November 28, 1960. Due to inclement weather and personality clashes on set, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY eventually went $10 million over budget. 

DID YOU KNOW? The movie’s ending was contentious among the filmmakers, and the final version was ultimately suggested by Billy Wilder. When director Lewis Milestone objected to the idea, George Seaton was brought on to helm the death scene of Lt. Christian in August 1962, over a year and half after production began. 

DID YOU KNOW? MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY marked a negative turning point in Marlon Brando’s career. His star power was diminished until his comeback in Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER in 1972, in which he regained critical acclaim. 

DID YOU KNOW? Although MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY was the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1962, its high production cost and long schedule made it nearly impossible to recoup expenses, and MGM considered the film to be a flop. 

DID YOU KNOW? Despite mixed reviews, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY was honored with seven Academy Award® nominations – for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Score, Best Song and Best Special Effects. The two nods for music for prolific composer Bronislaw Kaper marked his final Oscar® nominations before his death in 1983. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-In MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Captain Bligh pronounces: “Cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty, it is efficiency.” What does this say about class struggle in the workplace aboard the Bounty and in real life? How does social hierarchy impact the sailors and their decision to take command of the ship? 

-MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY portrays Tahitian life through the perspective of the white, male explorers as they exploit the local women for their perceived “free-love” philosophy. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to depict the Tahitian people in this way, and what does it imply about colonialism? 

-MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY presents an allegory of modern life, in which the elite class takes advantage of the lower ranks of workers who are enslaved to their positions. Describe how slavery is presented as a theme throughout the movie and how it impacts different characters of various ethnic backgrounds. 

-At the end of the movie, Lt. Christian decides to return to England and testify against Captain Bligh, but the men who were once faithful to his cause turn against him and set fire to the Bounty, resulting in Christian’s demise. Reflecting upon Christian’s religious namesake, do you think the movie is making a statement about the role of faith in the modern world? 

-Does the Bounty represent an economic system of profiteering and disenfranchisement that was no longer relevant in the early 1960s when the film was released? 

-Although MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY received mixed reviews, it fared well at the box office and was the fifth highest grossing movie of 1962. Still, the movie was considered a flop because it was unable to recoup its expenses. Looking at MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY from your perspective today, do you think the quality of the film should be based on its critical acclaim or its ability to cover its costs? 

-Do you believe the film holds up over time? 

-How would you rate MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY? 

 

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