Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nothing But the Best: "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935)

Scene from Mutiny on the Bounty
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

Mutiny on the Bounty
Release Date: November 8, 1935
Director: Frank Lloyd
Written By: Talbot Jennings & Jules Furthman & Carey Wilson (Screenplay), Charles Nordhoff (Book), James Norman Hall (Book)
Starring: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Running Time: 132 minutes

Oscar Wins: 1
-Best Picture

Oscar Nominations: 7
-Best Director
-Best Actor (Clark Gable)
-Best Actor (Charles Laughton)
-Best Actor (Franchot Tone)
-Best Screenplay
-Best Editing
-Best Original Score

Other Best Picture Nominees

-Alice Adams
-Broadway Melody of 1936
-Captain Blood
-David Copperfield
-The Informer
-Les Miserables
-The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
-A Midsummer Night's Dream
-Naughty Marietta
-Ruggles of Red Gap
-Top Hat

And the winner is...

When one thinks of grand adventure on the sea, it is likely that the idea of pirates and swashbucklers come to mind, maybe in the vein of Errol Flynn. However, Best Picture winner from director Frank Lloyd called Mutiny on the Bounty didn't just turn the high seas into a place for adventure, it brought history to life in exciting ways with a cast that featured Clark Gable and Charles Laughton constantly butting heads in their own mutiny. On screen and off, it's a rip roaring experience that has serves as the basis for many movies since. It may not be the most accurate film to depict the events of the HMS Bounty, but there's no deny how much fun it is.

The one thing that is commonly misunderstood about Mutiny on the Bounty is that it's based on an actual book. While it is based off of Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall's book of the same name, the details differ slightly. This is largely because the book is nonfiction and served more as a historical recounting than an actual narrative. Still, this didn't stop Lloyd from buying up the rights for $12,500. He would then pitch it to MGM with the condition that he would also direct it. As a result, he ended up doing so on a budget of $2 million; the highest for the studio since Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ from 1925. This didn't keep producer Louis B. Mayer from taking offense to it, complaining about the lack of romance. E.J. Mannix saved the day by convincing Gable that he would be the only star with any romantic interests. The only real perk was that Gable would have to shave his famous mustache, as it was prohibited during the period depicted for sailors to have them. Not bad, considering that Gable initially felt that he was miscast as well.

There was also conflict in the casting of Gable alongside Laughton, who played the villain. Irving Thalberg had the idea to cast opposites in order to create actual tension. Gable was a homophobe who once complained about how knee-breeches were "effeminate." Laughton was a homosexual who even had his boyfriend on set as his masseur. Of course, Gable wasn't entirely aware of this, as he once took Laughton to a gentleman's club. There wasn't any major complaints known between the two, except that Laughton was self-conscious about his own weight, causing him to never look Gable in the eye. Gable was notable annoyed by this.

Laughton was also a notorious perfectionist. If he felt that a scene was going wrong, he would intentionally screw up the take. This caused a range of emotions in the staff, from anger to laughter. He would also entertain the crew during down time to keep the mood light. As for Gable, he found more to enjoy with Franchot Tone that involved women and alcohol; an odd event considering that both previous had been romantically tied to Joan Crawford. They even were considered to be romantically involved with extras while on set. The one whom Tone was involved with, Movita, would end up marrying Marlon Brando; who starred in a remake in 1962.

The film was shot predominantly on Catalina Island, which was off the coast of California. The studio initially rejected the idea of the entire crew being there for months on end. During the filming, Lloyd's friend James Cagney appeared, revealing that he was on vacation. After some discussion, Cagney got Lloyd to use him as an extra in various scenes. David Niven is also in the film, but doesn't have as noticeable as a role. Beyond the scenes at Catalina Island, the crew went to Tahiti to shoot the later island scenes. They had canoes shipped in from Hollywood for 2,500 extras to use. While the shoot was a success, the film was stored improperly, thus resulting in everyone having to fly back out to Tahiti to film the parts over. In total, there were  652,228 feet of film shot, but only 12,000 feet ended up in the final film.

The film was a success upon release. Critics called it one of the greatest and most exciting films of the year. As of 2015, it is the last Best Picture winner to only win one Oscar (the others being The Broadway Melody and Grand Hotel). It was also the first winner ever to be based off of historical events and feature performances based on actual individuals. The film even earned three Best Actor nominations - the most in history - for Tone, Gable, and Laughton. They all lost to Victor McLagen for The Informer. It was because of this film that The Academy would add the Best Supporting Actor category. This was especially funny as Laughton and Gable had both one in the two previous years in 1933 (Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII) and 1934 (Gable in It Happened Out Night). Tone was never nominated again.

As is the case with most "historical" films, Mutiny on the Bounty suffered a backlash on its actual accuracy. In some cases, characters were in places long after their actual death. However, many claim that Lloyd was always up front about "basing" the story off of actual events instead of being direct adaptations. The book was part of a trilogy,  which inspired Lloyd to plan a sequel - of which never came to fruition. Since the film's release, it has been twice. The most noteworthy is the Best Picture nominee of the same name from 1962, starring Brando. Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins would star in The Bounty from 1984 - of which has been considered the most faithful to actual events. There were also versions of the film that predate the 1935 production, including the 1933 film In the Wake of the Bounty (co-starring an unknown Errol Flynn) and even one from further back from 1916 called The Mutiny on the Bounty. Despite these many adaptations, many people prefer the 1935 version the most.

Even if the film isn't always accurate, there's no denying that it definitely made an impact on the zeitgeist. It not only helped to give rise to high sea adventures, it made films about history come to life. Even if the film was inspired by casting two clashing actors, the final product shows the brilliant strategy casting that defines the best of cinema. With a tale so full of great small moments and excellent productions involving boats, it's hard not to enjoy the magic of Mutiny on the Bounty, which managed to be so much more than mayhem. It managed to be a lot of fun in the process while giving off the sense of adventure that pirate movies would adopt for decades to come.

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