Friday, March 26, 2010

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

I didn't know Tahitians were white.

Once again, it's time to review an aging classic. Mutiny on the Bounty just feels like a classic film. It's full of famous faces and personalities, heavy handed character and plot progression and sweeping themes. These kinds of films are hard to evaluate on many levels, but Mutiny on the Bounty succeeds on the simple fact that it is still enjoyable. The film sweeps you up in all it's classic glory and you sometimes forget that the movie is 75 years old. Mutiny on the Bounty sticks around because it's a well crafted, classic film.

Mutiny on the Bounty is loosely based on a novel that is loosely based on historical events that are far from well documented. On a voyage to Tahiti, the sailors abroad the cargo ship Bounty toil under the heavy handed Captain Bligh, played by Charles Laughton. After they reach the island paradise of Tahiti, home of the whitest, least xenophobic culture in Asia, the sailors can't stand the return voyage on a BDSM themed cargo ship. What I gathered is that sailors don't like being flogged by homosexuals. Rallying behind the handsome, clearly heterosexual, because there is nothing game about sunning shirtless with your man friend while eating a bananna, Fletcher Christian, played by Clark Gable, the men seize the ship and start life anew on the islands. There's some talk of revenge and some trials and stuff, but the movie was pretty much over at that point. The film garnered massive praise and was a smash hit at the time of it's release. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and earned a nomination for all three of it's leading men, although none of them won the award. As a Best Picture winner the movie earns a place in history even regardless of quality, but Mutiny on the Bounty is, at least, a solid member of that illustrious group. 

Mutiny on the Bounty shows it's age in a lot of places. It's full of the staples and cliches of it's genre, including the overly friendly, clearly white native people, the impassioned speeches about human dignity and the oddly placed character details that don't seem to fit. It's important that we learn something about our characters' past, but it needs to be integrated into the action and dialog of the film, not just mentioned randomly. Strangely enough, these cliches are one of the things that makes Mutiny on the Bounty fun to watch though. The movie doesn't require anything fancy to work. The well placed humor and the simple themes make the movie a rousing, enjoyable experience anyway. Classic movies, sometimes, have the ability to make me smile even when they aren't impressing me. You can call it whatever you want, but it all boils down to charm. There is something undeniably charming about Mutiny on the Bounty. Maybe it's the strong charisma of the movie's leading men, but I found it impossible to dislike the film. It certainly has it's issues, but most are forgotten because the movie is, simply, enjoyable from start to finish.

There are a lot of pitfalls in reviewing classic films. Some people overrate these movies. For some people, a movie that is over a certain age gets a pass to be underwhelming. For others, a movie over a certain age is like a step back in time to when film making was boring. I try my best to look at classic movies in both ways. A movie should never get a pass to be bad or boring just because it is old, but, in a lot of respects, movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood are significantly better than some of the crap that gets made today. Mutiny on the Bounty is still a good movie even if it is slightly unimpressive. It's a movie I could watch again, but I remember movies that do everything this one does, but better. If I want a movie about the British Navy I'll pop in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. If I want a movie about a mutiny, I'll pop in Amistad. See the movie for it's classic cinema charm, but don't expect too much.


1 comment:

whitney said...

I liked your point about the movie being pretty much over when Gable gets to the second island. Wasn't that kind of weird? How they didn't follow up on how most of the crew was put to death even though they weren't necessarily mutineers? And then the rich guy's daddy gets him off scott free? It had a false happy ending ring to it.