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Mutiny On the Bounty (1935)



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Mutiny On the Bounty is just one more example of a great film that shows how the best stories of exotic genres (the sea epic, in this case) are not about the particulars of the genre but rather the story's characters and their conflicts. This definitive film version of the novel packs a powerful punch, due in large part to the superb acting by Charles Laughton, as Captain Bligh, and Clark Gable, as Fletcher Christian -- inspired casting choices, to be sure.

Although based on real life events, the core story itself is ancient. It's a conflict between an old veteran and a "young upstart." The older man, Bligh, has the wisdom of years and experience and must assert it. The younger man, Christian, must topple the older before he can prove himself in his own right.

The harsh setting of a 1787 sea voyage the perfect place to set such a story. The rough conditions bring out the best and worst of each of the men, driving them to the desperate acts ordinary life would not require. It's a difficult position. At a time when stedfast loyalty to authority and discipline was demanded at all costs, what do you do when the sole figure of authority is fond of beating out fear-based compliance? And is it worth the heavy cost for a wily young rebel to fight back?

The tragedy is resounding, all the more so because it's not entirely clear how things might have been made right. In retrospect, Fletcher Christian was essentially wrong for leading the mutiny, but who can blame him? We're on his side, but why? Is the conclusion of the film just?

This is a greatly memorable film, but one scene stands out from the others. Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian stand, at odds, facing each other. The straw has broken both these camels' backs. From here on out, they are mortal enemies. The power of their brewing emotions is overwhelming. What do you see in their faces?

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