Technically, and going by precedents, this is no women’s picture; but Clarke Gable and Franchot Tone are in the cast and the likelihood is that they’ll atone for any weakness in that part of the business end. And with that one possible vulnerable point covered up, there’s nothing to stand in the way of ‘Mutiny’ qualifying for box office dynamite rating.
At the Capitol on Broadway, and with no cutting since the Coast previews, ‘Mutiny’ is running 131 minutes. If that’s a fault, it can be considered one only from the theater operation point of view. Audiences generally are not apt to resent it. For theatres wanting it shorter and sweeter, clipping will not be difficult for there’s plenty in the present footage that can stand it. At two hours and 11 minutes ‘Mutiny’ runs about equal to the average double bill.
The superfluous footage appears to be in the part, or parts, of the picture that give it most of its power. These are the flogging scenes, the torture stuff and the relentless exhibition of sadistic and terrible cruelty practiced on his men by Admiral Bligh (Charles Laughton). These moments are all brutally interesting, but they are at times repetitious, and that means much of it can go out without ill effects on the general merit of the story. Yet, even though repetitious, none seems out of place or extraneous in the 131-minute print. ‘Mutiny’ takes its time, and plenty of it, without being guilty of a single dull moment.
As a production of the type that used to be known as a ‘spectacle,’ as an example of superb screen authorship and as an exhibition of compelling histrionics, this one is Hollywood at its very best. The story certainly could not be presented as powerfully through any other medium.
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For plot the scenarists have used, with some variations, the first two books of the Nordhoff-Norman trilogy on the mutiny of Fletcher Christian. Beginnings of the first book and the picture are pretty much the same, as are the details up to the arrival of the hunted mutineers on Pitcairn’s Island. Picture ends there, omitting the third book almost entirely. Further credence to the facts on which the novel was based is lent by the picture, which credits, on the title sheet, the case as causing a new and more humane system of discipline in the British navy.
First hour or so of the film leads up, step by step, to the mutiny, with a flexible ‘story’ backgrounding some thrilling views of seamanship on a British man-o’-war in the early 18th century, and the cruel Capt. Bligh’s inhuman treatment of his sailors.
It was a rule in the navy of those days, it appears, that any sailor who struck a superior officer was subject to 20 lashes on every ship in the fleet. At the commencement of the picture. Bligh demands he be given his privilege of lashing the offender, despite that the man already is dead. A pretty hard-boiled start for a picture, and not a pleasant appetizer for the weaker stomachs, but it serves to set the character of Capt. Bligh right off the bat and with no stalling.
From then on Bligh, through the cruelties he performs and due to the faithful portrait drawn by Laughton, is as despicable a character as has ever heavied across a screen. Hateful from scratch, Bligh gets worse as he goes along, and when the mutiny arrives, the audience most everywhere will applaud, as did the more or less sophisticated clientele at the Capitol.
Delicate romancing amidst picturesque scenes in Tahiti by the English sailors is handled with finesse by the script, and the boys must have worn out plenty of kid gloves in slipping this part of the story in with diplomacy. Polynesians are considered members of the white race by many experts, but whether they are so held by the majority of layman is questionable. And Gable and Tone’s girl friends are very much Poly in appearance. But it’s all done so neatly that kicks won’t be numerous.
Laughton, Gable and Tone are all that Producer Al Lewin and Director Frank Lloyd could have wished for in the three key roles, Laughton is magnificent. Gable, as brave. Fletcher Christian, fills the doc’s prescription to the letter. Tone, likable throughout, gets his big moment with a morality speech at the finish, and makes the most of it.
Support players are mostly characters, depending chiefly on appearances and makeup, but the caster picked wisely and there’s ability behind everything, from bits to major assignments. Dudley Digges is splendid as the alcoholic ship’s doctor, and Eddie Quillan often takes the play away from the lead trio with his interpretation of the shanghaied kid, Ellison. Herbert Mundin, as a nervous mess ‘boy,’ has everything to himself in the comedy department. Pair of girls called Maria and Mamo, opposite Gable and Tone in the Tahiti romancing, are dark-eyed beauts who look good at all times, and especially in profile when emerging from a swim, but the girls talk mostly Polynesian and there’s no indication of acting ability either way.
Musical score by Herbert Stothart and camera work of Arthur Edeson, are commensurate with all other phases of ‘Mutiny’ and that means aces.
1935: Outstanding Production (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Nominations: Actor (Clark Gable), Actor (Charles Laughton), Actor (Franchot Tone), Directing (Frank Lloyd), Film Editing (Margaret Booth), Music (Scoring)