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"Can you understand this, Mr. Byam? Discipline is the thing. A seaman's a seaman. A captain's a captain. And a midshipman, Sir Joseph or no Sir Joseph, is the lowest form of animal life in the British Navy...
—Captain William Bligh, 1935 version
Based on a True Story, this is a classic novel so fondly remembered they filmed it twice (In fact, there's even a remake of the book). The first version, with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, was the 1935 Oscar-Winner for Best Picture. The second adaptation of the novel, with Marlon Brando, was 1962's most notorious flop.
There is also the movie The Bounty, which was a retelling of the actual history rather than an adaptation of the Mutiny on the Bounty novel. Featuring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, it was going to be two separate films directed by David Lean. Production hit a snag and Lean ultimately abandoned the project. It was released as a single film in 1984 with Roger Donaldson as director. It is revisionist compared to earlier versions, staying largely historically accurate and depicting Bligh in a far more sympathetic light.
All films tell the true story of a mutiny on the ship, the Bounty. In 1789, the small British naval ship HMS Bounty is sent to Tahiti under the command of Lieutenant William Bligh with the mission of bringing breadfruit plants to the Caribbean. The crew spends five months in the South Pacific island paradise while the plants grow, and the British sailors become accustomed to the good life there, basking in the sun and enjoying the company of the friendly natives (especially the women).
When the time comes to leave, the men have a hard time readjusting to the "jack tar" life of a sailor, especially under the command of their sharp-tongued commander. A few weeks after setting sail, a mutiny breaks out with second-in-command Fletcher Christian as the leader. Lieutenant Bligh is set adrift in an open launch with just over half the men and, in an impressive feat of seamanship, is able to navigate to the safety of Dutch-held Timor with only a sextant and a pocket watch.
The mutineers initially return to Tahiti. Some stay there, knowing they will be tried (and possibly executed) as soon as the next British ship arrives. 9 of the 22 mutineers (including Fletcher Christian), intending to evade capture, take the Bounty and head for the very isolated Pitcairn Island in the company of several Tahitian men and women. After reaching their goal and intending to start a new life, they burn the Bounty.
While most adaptations break off at this point, the drama actually continued for the mutineers and their companions, resulting in a decidedly non-happy ending for most: After several years on Pitcairn, violence broke out between the mutineers and the Tahitian men, and ultimately the women too. Almost all of the island's men, including Christian, died in these fights, while some others were killed by accidents, disease and excessive alcohol consumption. The net result was that when the island was first visited again in 1808, only one of the men, John Adams, was still alive, along with nine of the women and a number of children. The descendants of the mutineers continue to live on Pitcairn to this day.
The Various Film Adaptations Contain Examples Of:
- Badass: Bligh (1935 particularly)
- The Captain
- The Chief's Daughter: Mauatua in the 1984 film. (Her name in actual history was Maimiti.)
- The Determinator: Bligh. He guided his men three thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean in an open boat with the loss of only one crewmember.
- The Drunken Sailor: The ship surgeon
- A Father to His Men: Fletcher Christian
- The Film of the Book: The 1935 and 1962 film versions.
- Happily Ever Before: The films all end after the arrival of the mutineers on Pitcairn, but before the fights that left all but one of the men on the island dead.
- Harmony Versus Discipline: Tahiti vs. Bligh
- Heroic BSOD: Fletcher Christian during the mutiny, 1984 film ("I am in Hell!").
- Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade: In the 1935 and 1962 films; see Very Loosely Based On A True Story below. The historical Bligh did things like flogging that seem barbaric to modern viewers but he was no more brutal than your average 18th century Royal Navy captain. Fletcher Christian and the mutineers, for their part, basically mutinied because they didn't feel like the Navy thing anymore after a long time in Tahiti, enjoying surf, sand, and plenty of sex with native girls.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl / National Geographic Nudity: In the 1984 film the local Tahitian women generally go topless.
- Jerkass: In The Bounty Bligh isn't portrayed as a villain but he isn't really a people person. He may also have a point about the men having gone soft in Tahiti.
- The Mutiny
- Naive Newcomer: Roger Byam (1935 and 1962), before becoming a A Father to His Men
- The Neidermeyer: Captain Bligh (1935 and 1962)
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Clark Gable, as Fletcher Christian, doesn't sound so British.
- Officer and a Gentleman
- Shown Their Work: The Bounty is easily the most accurate of the various film versions of the story. Christian's "I am in Hell!" is a direct quote.
- A Taste of the Lash
- Troubled Production: 1962.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Don't watch the 1935 or 1962 films if you want a documentary on the actual 1789 event.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men
- This is a historical Beam Me Up, Scotty; the Bounty was never designated HMS while in service.