Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1962. Arcola Pictures. Screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall. Cinematography by Robert Surtees. Produced by Aaron Rosenberg. Music by Bronislau Kaper. Production Design by George W. Davis, J. McMillan Johnson. Costume Design by Moss Mabry. Film Editing by John McSweeney Jr.. Academy Awards 1962. Golden Globe Awards 1962.
The worst (and, by all accounts, least historically accurate) of the three major film adaptations of Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s popular novel, this one takes advantage of all the technological enhancements available to films since the 1935 Oscar-winning classic but saps out all the drama and urgency. Marlon Brando is a washout as Fletcher Christian, the fashionable gentleman who goes aboard the titular sea vessel as master’s mate to a tyrannical captain (Trevor Howard), voyaging with him to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants that, in this version, are referred to as a staple food to help the poor (it was actually meant as cheap food for slaves, another example of this version blanching out the sharp contradictions of the original). The crew eventually has enough of Howard’s placing the empire’s mission above the welfare of his men: one flogging too many and Brando decides to take over command of the ship, which inspires a complicated reaction from the crew and the unhappy military officials back home. Gorgeous photography of the south sea islands where much of the film takes place is genuine incentive, as is the relentlessly lush musical score by Bronislau Kaper, but witnessing Brando at the beginning of a period where he couldn’t hide his indulgent eccentricities (including a ridiculous English accent that audiences justifiably laughed off the screen when it was first released) is difficult to take. His unconvincing manner of speaking is just one aspect of this flimsy performance that completely fails to connect with the rest of the production, and if even half the stories about the notorious shooting experience are true (including a runaway budget and the star’s increasingly bizarre demands), said lack of connection makes sense. The full-size replica of The Bounty, built for the film at a then astronomical cost of $750,000, was reused in a number of films (including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) before sinking during Hurricane Sandy and killing its crew, including one of Fletcher Christian’s descendants.