Mutiny on the Bounty
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Lloyd
Screenplay byTalbot Jennings
Jules Furthman
Carey Wilson
Based onMutiny on the Bounty
1932 novel
by Charles Nordhoff
James Norman Hall
Produced byFrank Lloyd
Irving Thalberg
StarringCharles Laughton
Clark Gable
Franchot Tone
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byMargaret Booth
Music byScore:
Herbert Stothart
Nat W. Finston
Walter Jurmann
Bronisław Kaper
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 8, 1935 (1935-11-08)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.95 million[1]
Box office$4.46 million[1][2] (rentals)

Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1935[3] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer drama film directed by Frank Lloyd and starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, based on the 1932 Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel Mutiny on the Bounty. Despite historical inaccuracies, the film was a huge box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1935 and one of MGM's biggest hits of the 1930s. The film received a leading eight nominations at the 8th Academy Awards, winning only Best Picture.


One night in Portsmouth, England, in 1787, a press gang breaks into a local tavern and presses all of the men drinking there into naval service. One of the men enquires as to what ship they will sail on, and the press gang leader informs him that it is HMS Bounty. Upon inquiring as to who the captain is, another man is told the captain is William Bligh (Charles Laughton) and attempts to escape, as Bligh is a brutal tyrant who routinely administers harsh punishment to officers and crew alike who lack discipline, cause any infraction on board the ship, or defy his authority in any manner.

The Bounty leaves England several days later on a two-year voyage over the Pacific Ocean. Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), the ship's lieutenant, is a formidable yet compassionate man who disapproves of Bligh's treatment of the crew. Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is an idealistic midshipman who is divided between his loyalty to Bligh, owing to his family's naval tradition, and his friendship with Christian.

During the voyage, the enmity between Christian and Bligh grows after Christian openly challenges Bligh's unjust practices aboard the ship. When the ship arrives at the island of Tahiti, where the crew acquires Breadfruit plants to take to the West Indies, Bligh punishes Christian by refusing to let him leave the ship during their stay.

Byam, meanwhile, sets up residency on the island and lives with the island chief, Hitihiti (William Bambridge), and his daughter, Tehani (Movita Castaneda), and he compiles an English dictionary of the Tahitian language. Hitihiti persuades Bligh to allow Christian a day pass on the island. Bligh agrees, but quickly repeals the pass out of spite. Christian disregards the order and spends his day off the ship romancing a Tahitian girl, Maimiti (Mamo Clark). Christian promises her he will be back someday.

After leaving Tahiti, the crew begins to talk of mutiny after Bligh's harsh discipline leads to the death of the ship's beloved surgeon, Mr. Bacchus (Dudley Digges), and Bligh severely cuts water rationing to the crew in favor of providing more water for the breadfruit plants.

Christian, although initially opposing the idea, decides he can no longer tolerate Bligh's brutality when he witnesses crew members shackled in iron chains, and he approves the mutiny. The crew raids the weapons cabinet and seizes the ship. Christian prevents the crew from killing Bligh and orders him and his loyalists cast into a boat and set adrift at sea with a map and rations to ensure their survival. Due to Bligh's steady leadership, they are able to find their way back to land.

Meanwhile, Christian orders that Bounty return to Tahiti. Byam, who was in his cabin during the mutiny, disapproves of what Christian has done and decides the two can no longer be friends, after Christian assaults him.

Months later, Byam is married to Tehani, and Christian has married Maimiti and has a child with her, while the rest of the crew are enjoying their freedom on the island. After a long estrangement, Byam and Christian reconcile their friendship. However, when the British ship HMS Pandora is spotted approaching, Byam and Christian decide they must part ways. Byam and several crew members remain on the island for the ship to take them back to England, while Christian leads the remaining crew, his wife, and several Tahitian men and women back on board Bounty in search of a new island on which to seek refuge.

Byam boards Pandora and, much to his surprise, discovers that Bligh is the captain. Bligh, who suspects that Byam was complicit in the mutiny, has him imprisoned for the remainder of the journey across the sea.

Back in England, Byam is court-martialed and found guilty of mutiny. Before the court condemns him, Byam speaks of Bligh's cruel, dehumanising conduct aboard Bounty. Due to the intervention of his friend Sir Joseph Banks (Henry Stephenson) and Lord Hood (David Torrence), Byam is pardoned by King George III and allowed to resume his naval career at sea.

Meanwhile, Christian has found Pitcairn, an uninhabited yet sustainable island that he believes will provide adequate refuge from the reach of the Royal Navy. After Bounty crashes on the rocks, Christian orders her to be burned.


Historical accuracy

Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh set adrift by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable)

The movie contains several historical inaccuracies. Captain Bligh was never on board HMS Pandora, nor was he present at the trial of the mutineers who stayed on Tahiti.

At the time, he was halfway around the world on a second voyage for Breadfruit plants. Fletcher Christian's father had died many years before Christian's travels on board Bounty, whereas the film shows the elder Christian at the trial. The movie was always presented as an adaptation of the Nordhoff and Hall trilogy, which already differed from the actual story of the mutiny.

Bligh is initially depicted as a brutal, sadistic disciplinarian, only becoming more sympathetic during the voyage to Timor. Particular episodes include a keelhauling and flogging a dead man. Neither of these happened. Keelhauling was used rarely, if at all, and had been abandoned long before Bligh's time. Indeed, the meticulous record of Bounty's log reveals that the flogging rate was lower than the average for that time.[4] Neither was Bligh then the middle-aged man that Laughton portrayed or an actual Royal Navy Captain: in fact he was then a relatively young man aged 33 when the voyage began, who was then a Lieutenant but was customarily addressed as "Captain" because he commanded the ship.[5]

Prior to the mutiny, Bounty had only two deaths. One seaman, James Valentine, died of an ill-defined respiratory illness; logs indicate he was "seized with a violent hollow Cough and spit much." And the ship's surgeon, Thomas Huggan, apparently died of complications due to his chronic alcoholism, not as a result of abuse by Bligh. In fact, Bligh had threatened to seize and impound Huggan's alcohol stocks on account of him regularly being intoxicated while on duty, a threat Bligh eventually carried out. Huggan's constant drunkenness left Bligh little choice but to oversee key health issues himself. Notably, the crew had been examined constantly for scurvy, and Bligh – whose expertise in this matter developed under Captain James Cook – had detected no verified signs of the illness at any time.

Likewise, the film shows the mutineers taking over the ship only after killing several loyal crewmen, when in fact none died (although one crewman came very close to shooting Bligh until stopped by Christian). Lastly, Christian is shown being inspired to take over the ship after several crewmen have unjustly been put into irons by Bligh; this is fictional.[citation needed]

In the final scene of the film, Christian gives a rousing speech to his fellow mutineers, speaking of creating a perfect society of free men on Pitcairn, away from Bligh and the navy. The actual version of history was very different as in it mutineers enslaved Tahitian men.[6]

For historical accuracy, Clark Gable reluctantly had to shave off his moustache because the sailors in the Royal Navy in the 18th century had to be clean-shaven. Midshipman Roger Byam was based on a real person, Midshipman Peter Heywood, who is not listed in the novel or motion picture. Just as the fictional Byam is pardoned at the end of the film, the real-life Peter Heywood was pardoned for his part in the mutiny. MGM trailers in 1935 made an error calling Midshipman Byam an ensign.

Mutineer Thomas Ellison is depicted as being allowed to see his wife before his execution. There is no record to indicate that the real Ellison was married, and in any case, a consolation visit of this type never would have been permitted in real life.


Filming locations

Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian

James Cagney (then on a hiatus from Warner Bros. during a contract dispute) and future stars David Niven and Dick Haymes were uncredited extras in the movie. Cagney is clearly visible toward the beginning of the film. He was sailing his boat near where the film was shooting near Catalina Island; director Frank Lloyd was an old friend of his, and Cagney asked him if he could play a small part in the film, saying, jokingly, "I need the money". Lloyd had Cagney dressed in a crewman's clothes and put him in the background of a few scenes.

Charles Laughton, who had a severe self-image complex concerning his weight and unattractive looks, suffered horribly in comparing himself to the handsome, masculine Clark Gable.[7] Laughton would constantly watch his own walk, gestures, and face, making sure not to let his complex be projected.[7]


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired and modified the sailing ship Lily, a two-masted schooner, to be used as the three-masted full-rigged Bounty in the movie.[8] As a replica of the second ship, Pandora, Nanuk was used.[9] Both ships sailed to Tahiti and back for film shoots at the original locations.[10]


Advertorial poster

Contemporary reviews were enthusiastic. Andre Sennwald of The New York Times wrote, "Grim, brutal, sturdily romantic, made out of horror and desperate courage, it is as savagely exciting and rousingly dramatic a photoplay as has come out of Hollywood in recent years. The Nordhoff-Hall trilogy was, of course, born to be filmed, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has given it the kind of production a great story deserves."[11] The Hollywood Reporter raved that it was "one of the greatest films of all time", with "the epic sweep of the sea itself."[12] Variety called it "Hollywood at its very best. The story certainly could not have been presented as powerfully through any other medium."[13] Film Daily wrote, "This is one of the most important productions since the inception of talking pictures. It is grim, gripping and pictorially perfect."[14] John Mosher of The New Yorker declared that the filmmakers had "done a good, solid, fine job" and wrote that Laughton's performance as Captain Bligh "may not be exactly the image of the original brute, but it's a Laughton masterpiece."[15] Mutiny on the Bounty topped the annual Film Daily poll of 523 critics as the best film of 1936 (it was released too late in the year to appear on the 1935 ballot).[16][17]

Rotten Tomatoes reports a 96% approval rating based on 74 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.60/10. The site's consensus reads: "The historical inaccuracies in this high-seas adventure are more than offset by its timeless themes, larger-than-life performances from Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, and Frank Lloyd's superb direction".[18]

Box office

According to MGM records the film earned $2,250,000 in the US and Canada and $2,210,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $909,000.[1]

It was the 3rd most popular film at the British box office in 1935–1936.[19]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

This film is, as of 2023, the last Best Picture winner to win in no other category (following The Broadway Melody and Grand Hotel). It is the only film to have three Best Actor nominations. As a result of this, a Best Supporting Actor category was created for the Oscars, beginning with the following year's awards ceremony.

Award Nominee Result
Best Picture Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(Irving Thalberg and Frank Lloyd producers)
Best Director Frank Lloyd John FordThe Informer
Best Actor Clark Gable Victor McLaglenThe Informer
Charles Laughton
Franchot Tone
Best Writing, Screenplay Jules Furthman, Talbot Jennings and Carey Wilson Dudley NicholsThe Informer
Best Film Editing Margaret Booth Ralph DawsonA Midsummer Night's Dream
Best Music, Scoring Nat W. Finston and Herbert Stothart
("Love Song of Tahiti" written by Walter Jurmann, uncredited)
Max SteinerThe Informer

Other honors

American Film Institute recognition

Cancelled sequels

In 1940 Frank Lloyd was reported as wanting to make a film about the life of Captain Bligh starring Spencer Tracy or Charles Laughton, at Universal. It was never made.[20]

In 1945, it was reported that MGM would make a sequel with Gable, Christian of the Bounty. It would be based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff about Christian's romantic adventures in England and South America following the colonization of Pitcairn Island and would be produced by Carey Wilson.[21] It was never made.

Other film versions

A 1962 three-hour-plus widescreen Technicolor remake, starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Capt. Bligh, was a disaster both critically and financially at the time. Nonetheless, the remake was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

In 1984, Mel Gibson played Christian opposite Anthony Hopkins as Bligh in a film (based not upon the Nordhoff-Hall novels but on an historical work by Richard Hough) called The Bounty. This latest version, which gives a far more sympathetic view of Bligh, is considered to be the closest to historical events.

The 1935 version was itself not the first film account of the mutiny. In 1933 an Australian film entitled In the Wake of the Bounty, with the then-unknown Errol Flynn as Fletcher Christian, was released, but was not successful and received few bookings outside Australia. Flynn noted in his autobiography that whenever he mentioned that he'd played Christian in an Australian version of Mutiny on the Bounty two years before Gable, no one ever believed him. There was also an even earlier film, the 1916 Australian–New Zealand film, The Mutiny of the Bounty directed by Raymond Longford.



  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Mutiny on the Bounty, Overview Archived March 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Movie Guy 24/7. Retrieved April 14, 2013
  3. ^ ED STOCKLY.Movies on TV this week: March 15: ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ on Freeform; Raiders of the Lost Ark and more. Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ "MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY". Movieguide. June 24, 2020. Retrieved October 23, 2022.
  5. ^ Burnam, Tom (1985). The Dictionary of Misinformation. Futura Publications Ltd, London. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-06-091315-1.
  6. ^ Buchanan, Kelly (April 29, 2013). "Mutiny and Other Crimes: Another Tale from the South Seas (Part 1)". The Library of Congress. Retrieved October 23, 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Charles Laughton". Hollywood Greats. Series 2. Episode 5. August 31, 1978. 12–13 minutes in.
  8. ^ The Lily, H.M.S Bounty. at the Wayback Machine (archived 2012-02-22) from access-date May 14, 2023.
  9. ^ JaySea (January 29, 2023). "The First Bounty Replica". Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  10. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)". Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  11. ^ Sennwald, Andre (November 9, 1935). "Movie Review – Mutiny on the Bounty". The New York Times. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  12. ^ "MGM 'Mutiny' A Smash". The Hollywood Reporter. October 28, 1935. p. 1.
  13. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty". Variety. New York. November 13, 1935. p. 16.
  14. ^ "Reviews". Film Daily. New York. November 1, 1935. p. 7.
  15. ^ Mosher, John (November 16, 1935). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 99.
  16. ^ ""Mutiny On The Bounty" Heads '36 "Ten Best"". Film Daily. New York. January 7, 1937. p. 1.
  17. ^ ""Copperfield" Heads 1935 "Ten Best" List". Film Daily. New York. January 9, 1936. p. 6.
  18. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 29, 2022.
  19. ^ "The Film Business in the United States and Britain during the 1930s" by John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny, The Economic History ReviewNew Series, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp.97
  20. ^ "TWO STUDIOS PLAN A BOUNTY 'MUTINY': M-G-M and Paramount Race to Complete Productions of Films on Sea Adventure". New York Times. November 2, 1959. p. 39.
  21. ^ "NEWS OF THE SCREEN: M-G-M to Make 'Christian of Bounty,' With Gable-- 'Southerner' Premiere Again Postponed Of Local Origin". New York Times. August 14, 1945. p. 17.