Mutiny on the Bounty (1962 film)

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Mutiny on the Bounty
Poster for Mutiny on the Bounty.jpg
Original film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg (uncredited)
Written by Charles Lederer
Based on Mutiny on the Bounty
1932 novel
by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Edited by John McSweeney, Jr.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
November 8, 1962
Running time
178 minutes
(UK:185 minutes)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million
Box office $13.6 million[1]

Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 American Technicolor epic historical drama film starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris, based on the novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.

The film retells the 1789 real-life mutiny aboard HMAV Bounty led by Fletcher Christian against the ship's captain, William Bligh. It is the second American film to be made from the novel, the first being Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). It was directed by Lewis Milestone, who replaced Carol Reed early in the production schedule, and it turned out to be Milestone's final film.

The screenplay was written by Charles Lederer (with uncredited input from Eric Ambler, William L. Driscoll, Borden Chase, John Gay and Ben Hecht).[2] The score was composed by Bronisław Kaper.

Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed in the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process, the first motion picture so credited. It was partly shot on location in the South Pacific. Behind the scenes, Marlon Brando effectively took over directing duties himself and caused it to become far behind schedule and over budget — resulting in director Carol Reed pulling out of the project and being replaced by Lewis Milestone who is credited as director of the picture. The film was panned, and was considered a box office bomb, having lost over $6 million.

A replica of Bounty was constructed for the film. Fifty years after the release of the film, the vessel sank in Hurricane Sandy with loss of life.


In the year 1787, the Bounty sets sail from Britain for Tahiti under the command of captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard). Her mission is to transport breadfruit to Jamaica, where hopefully it will thrive and provide a cheap source of food for the slaves.

The voyage gets off to a difficult start with the discovery that some cheese is missing. Bligh, the true pilferer, is accused of the theft by seaman John Mills (Richard Harris), and Bligh has Mills brutally flogged for showing contempt to his superior officer, to the disgust of his patrician second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando). The tone for the months to come is summarized by Bligh's ominous pronouncement that "cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty, it is efficiency." Aristocrat Christian is deeply offended by his ambitious captain.

Bligh attempts to reach Tahiti sooner by attempting the shorter westbound route around Cape Horn, a navigational nightmare. The strategy fails and the Bounty backtracks east, costing the mission much time. Singleminded Bligh attempts to make up the lost time by pushing the crew harder and cutting their rations.

When the Bounty reaches her destination, the crew revels in the easygoing life of the tropical paradise — and in the free-love philosophies of the Tahitian women. Christian himself is smitten with Maimiti (Tarita Teriipaia), daughter of the Tahitian king. Bligh's agitation is further fueled by a dormancy period of the breadfruit: more months of delay until the plants can be transplanted. As departure day nears, three men, including seaman Mills, attempt to desert but are caught by Christian and clapped in irons by Bligh.

On the voyage to Jamaica, Bligh attempts to bring back twice the number of breadfruit plants to atone for his tardiness, and must reduce the water rations of the crew to water the extra plants. One member of the crew falls from the rigging to his death while attempting to retrieve the drinking ladle. Another assaults Bligh over conditions on the ship and is fatally keelhauled. Mills taunts Christian after each death, trying to egg him on to challenge Bligh. When a crewman becomes gravely ill from drinking seawater, Christian attempts to give him fresh water in violation of the Captain's orders. Bligh strikes Christian when he ignores his second order to stop. In response, Christian strikes Bligh. Bligh informs Christian that he will hang for his action when they reach port. With nothing left to lose, Christian takes command of the ship and sets Bligh and the loyalist members of the crew adrift in the longboat with navigational equipment, telling them to make for a local island. Bligh decides instead to cross much of the Pacific in order to reach British authorities sooner and arrives back in Britain with remarkable speed.

The military court exonerates Bligh of misdeed and recommends an expedition to arrest the mutineers and put them on trial, but also comes to the conclusion that the appointment of Bligh as captain of The Bounty was wrong. In the meantime, Christian sails back to Tahiti to pick up supplies and the girlfriends of the crew, then on to remote and wrongly charted Pitcairn Island to hide from the wrath of the Royal Navy. Once on Pitcairn, Christian decides that it is their duty to return to Britain and testify to Bligh's wrongdoing and asks his men to sail with him. To prevent this possibility the men set the ship on fire and Christian is fatally burned while trying to save it.



Following the success of 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty, director Frank Lloyd announced plans in 1940 to make a sequel which focused on Captain Bligh in later life, to star Spencer Tracy or Charles Laughton. No film resulted. In 1945 Casey Wilson wrote a script for Christian of the Bounty, which was to star Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and focus on Christian's life on Pitcairn Island.[3] This was never filmed.

In the 1950s MGM remade a number of their earlier successes in colour and widescreen such as Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda. They decided to remake Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1958 the studio announced Aaron Rosenberg would produce the film and Marlon Brando was mentioned as a possible star.[4]

Eric Ambler was signed to write a script at $5,000 a week. It was intended to combine material from the Nordhoff and Hall novels Mutiny on the Bounty and Pitcairn Island (MGM also owned the rights to a third book, Men Against the Sea, which dealt with Bligh's boat voyage after the mutiny).[3]

In 1959 it was announced Paramount would make a rival Bounty film to be written and directed by James Clavell called The Mutineers, which would focus on the fate of the Muntineers on Pitcairn Island.[3] However this project was not made.

Marlon Brando eventually was signed, at a fee of $500,000 plus 10% of the profits. Carol Reed was hired to direct. It was decided to shoot the film in Tahiti itself to take advantage of color and widescreen, being shot in MGM Camera 65. Robert Surtees would be the cinematographer. The film was set to begin shooting 15 October 1960 and the film was called "MGM's Ben Hur of 1961."[5]

Brando wrote in his memoirs that around the same time he was offered the lead in Lawrence of Arabia but selected the Bounty because he preferred to go to Tahiti, a place that had long fascinated him, rather than film six months in the desert. "Lean was a very good director but he took so long to make a movie that I would have dried up in the desert like a puddle of water," wrote Brando.[6]

A replica of the Bounty was built in Nova Scotia and was to be sailed to Tahiti.[7]

Script Development

Rosenberg said the film would focus more on the fate of the crew after the mutiny, with Captain Bligh only in a minor role and the mutiny dealt with in flashback. "It was Brando's idea," said Rosenberg. "And he was right. It has always been fascinating to wonder what happened to the mutineers afterwards."[7]

"The mood after the mutiny must be one of hope," said Reed. "The men hope to live a different sort of life, a life without suffering, without brutality. They hope for a life without sick ambitions, without the pettiness of personal success. They dream of a new life where nobody is trying to outdo the next person."[7]

Ambler says his brief was to make the Fletcher Christian part as interesting as Bligh.[8]

MGM executives were unhappy with Ambler's script, although the writer estimated he did fourteen drafts.[9]

John Gay was signed to write a version in July 1960. Eventually scripts would be written by William Driscoll, Borden Chase (writing in August 1960), Howard Clewes and Charles Lederer.[10]

According to one report, Ambler did the first third of the film, about the journey, Driscoll did the second, about life on Tahiti, and Chase did the third, about the mutiny and afterwards. Gay wrote the narration. Then Lederer was brought on before filming was to begin.[11]


In July 1960 Peter Finch signed to play Bligh.[12] However by August the role went to Trevor Howard.[13]

Brando personally selected a local Tahitian, Tarita, to play his love interest.[14]


Shooting was to begin in October 1960 however delays in the scripting and construction of the ship (built at a cost of $750,000) meant it did not begin until November. More than 150 cast and crew arrived in Tahiti, and MGM took over 200 hotel rooms.[14]

Shooting began on November 28. Filming was difficult, in part because the script was being rewritten and Brando was reportedly ad-libbing much of his part. Also costs were high due to the remote location.[15] The replica of the Bounty took nine months to make rather than the scheduled six and arrived after filming had started.[16]

However Marlon Brando later wrote "realities surpassed even my fantasies about Tahiti, and I had some of the best times of my life making Mutiny on the Bounty... Every day as soon as the director said "cut" for the last time, I ripped off my British naval officer's uniform and dove off the ship into the bay to swim with the Tahitian extras working on the movie. Often we only did two or three shots a day which left me hours to enjoy their company, and I grew to love them for their love of life."[17]

In January 1961, after three months of filming, Reed flew back from location with, reportedly, an "undisclosed ailment".[18] This has been reported as gallstones and heat stroke; other reports said Reed was unhappy over differences in the direction of the story.[16]

By now the rain season had started. Filming halted and the unit returned to Hollywood. MGM demanded that Reed finish the film within 100 days. Reed said he needed 139. The studio fired him. Brando claims in his memoirs that MGM fired Reed because he wanted to make Bligh the hero. [19]

Lewis Milestone

Reed was replaced by Lewis Milestone. "Reed was used to making his own pictures," said Milestone. "He was not used to producer, studio and star interference. But those of us who have been around Hollywood are like alley cats. We know this style. We know how to survive."[10]

Milestone later said "I felt it would be an easy assignment because they'd been on it for months and there surely couldn't be much left to do." [20] However he says he found that they had only shot one seven minute scene, where Trevor Howard issues instructions about obtaining breadfruit.[10]

Filming resumed in March 1961 at MGM studios. Milestone says for his first two weeks on the film "Brando behaved himself and I got a lot of stuff done" such as the arrival of the Bounty at Tahiti. The director says he "got on beautifully with" the British actors "they were real human beings and I had a lot of fun."[21]

Milestone says "the trouble started" after the first two weeks. He summarised the cause being "the producer made a number of promises to Marlon Brando which he couldn't keep. It was an impossible situation because, right or wrong, the man simply took charge of everything. You had the option of sitting and watching him or turning your back on him. Neither the producers nor I could do anything about it."[22]

The unit returned to Tahiti in April 1961. Filming was also plagued by bad weather and script problems. Richard Harris clashed with Brando and Brando was frequently late to set and difficult while filming.[16][23]

"Marlon did not have approval of the story," said Milestone. "But he did have approval of himself. If Brando did not like something he would just stand in front of the camera and not act. He thought only of himself. At the same time, he was right in many things that he wanted. He is too cerebral to play the part of Mr. Christian the way Clark Gable played it."[10]

Milestone says the script was constantly being rewritten by Charles Lederer on set with input from Rosenberg, Sol Siegel and Joseph Vogel, as well as Brando. Milestone says Lederer would often work on the script with Brando in the morning and shooting would not start until the afternoon. Milestone says "you had the option of shooting it but since Marlon Brando was going to supervise it anyway, I waited until someone yelled 'camera' and went off to sit down somewhere and read the paper."[24]

The film ended up costing $10 million more than originally expected.[10] Adding to the turmoil of the production's woes, a Tahitian was killed while filming a canoe sequence.

"I have been in this business a few days but I never saw anything like this," said Milestone. "It was like being in a hurricane on a rudderless ship without a captain. I thought when I took the job that it would be a nice trip. By the time it was finished I felt as though I had been shanghaied."[10]

"The big trouble was lack of guts by management at Metro," said Milestone. "Lack of vision. When they realised there was so much trouble with the script they should have stopped the whole damn production. If they did not like Marlon's behavior they should have told him that they must do as they wished or else they should have taken him out of the picture. But they just did not have the guts."[10] Shooting was ultimately finished by October 1961.

Post Production

In May 1962 work was still being done on the script and the film.[11] The studio was unhappy with the ending. A number of writers pitched ideas including Brando. Eventually Billy Wilder suggested the ending that was shot.[25] Milestone refused to direct it so George Seaton shot Christian's death scene in August 1962.[26]

The Saturday Evening Post ran an article about the making of the film which Brando felt disparaged him. He sued them for $5 million. He got MGM president Joseph Vogel to speak in support of the actor; the tactic was backfired and was later used against Vogel when he resigned not long after the release of the film.[27]


Critical response

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "there's much that is eye-filling and gripping as pure spectacle," but criticized Marlon Brando for making Fletcher Christian "more a dandy than a formidable ship's officer ... one feels the performance is intended either as a travesty or a lark."[28] Variety called the film "often overwhelmingly spectacular" and "generally superior" to the 1935 version, adding, "Brando in many ways is giving the finest performance of his career."[29] Brendan Gill of The New Yorker wrote that the screenwriter and directors "haven't failed, but a genuine success has been beyond their grasp. One reason for this is that they've received no help from Marlon Brando, who plays Fletcher Christian as a sort of seagoing Hamlet. Since what Fletcher Christian has to say is so much less interesting than what Hamlet has to say, Mr. Brando's tortured scowlings seem thoroughly out of place. Indeed, we tend to sympathize with the wicked Captain Bligh, well played by Trevor Howard. No wonder he behaved badly, with that highborn young fop provoking him at every turn!"[30] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film an "unquestionably handsome spectacular" that "teeters headlong into absurdity" in its third hour, summarizing: "It would seem that the mutiny occurred only because the hero blew his top and is egotistically disturbed because he did so."[31] The Monthly Film Bulletin of the UK criticized Brando for an "outrageously phony upper-class English accent" and the direction for "looking suspiciously like a multiple hack job."[32] Time wrote that the film "wanders through the hoarse platitudes of witless optimism until at last it is swamped with sentimental bilge."[33] The film currently holds a rating of 67% on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews, with an average score of 6.5/10.[34]

The film's horrible and nightmarish production, Brando's notorious behavior during the production, the immense backlash against Brando by the press for his behavior, the overwhelmingly negative reviews aimed directly at Brando's performance in the film, and the film's disastrous performance at the box office destroyed his film acting career and star power, only to be revived with the release of The Godfather ten years later. Milestone said later he thought Brando's performance was "horrible".[35]

Box office

The film was the 6th highest-grossing film of 1962 grossing $13,680,000 domestically,[1] earning $9.8 million in US theatrical rentals.[36]. However it needed to make $30 million to recoup its budget[15] of $19 million. This meant the film was a box office flop.[37]


The 1962 movie did not win any Oscars but was nominated for seven:[38]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Comic book adaption


Marlon Brando fell in love with Tahiti and bought an island, Tetiaroa.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1962): Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Special to the New York Times (November 2, 1959). "TWO STUDIOS PLAN A BOUNTY 'MUTINY'; M-G-M and Paramount Race to Complete Productions of Films on Sea Adventure". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 39. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  4. ^ Hopper, Hedda (October 9, 1958). "MGM Wants Brando in 'Mutiny' Remake". Los Angeles Times. p. B10.
  5. ^ Scott, John L. (May 31, 1960). "Britons to Support Brando in 'Mutiny': Producer, Director Will Cast 20 'Bounty' Roles in England". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  6. ^ Brando p 268
  7. ^ a b c Schumach, Murray (June 5, 1960). "Producer, Director Log a Few Plans On Their 'Mutiny on the Bounty'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. D5. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  8. ^ "At 19, an agent advised him to forget about writing". The Guardian. 2 February 1970. p. 8.
  9. ^ When it comes to espionage thrillers, the grand master is forever Ambler: Master spy novelist is forever Ambler Gorner, Peter. Chicago Tribune 28 Oct 1981: b1.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Schumach, Murray (March 25, 1962). "HOLLYWOOD AT SEA; 'Bounty' Director Blames a Timorous Management for Tumultuous Saga". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  11. ^ a b SCRIPT PROBLEMS PLAGUE BOUNTY': Ending of M-G-M Remake Is Still Being Rewritten By MURRAY SCHUMACH Special to The New York Times.21 May 1962: 40.
  12. ^ Restless Night' Set for Niven Hooper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times 1 July 1960: 24.
  13. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (October 20, 1960). "'Sheik' griffith to sail on bounty". Los Angeles Times. p. B11. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Hugdins, Morgan (February 19, 1961). "RETURN TO 'PARADISE' ABOARD THE 'BOUNTY'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  15. ^ a b "TAHITI WAS PARADISE". The Times of India. The Times Group. December 17, 1961. p. A6. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Scheuer, Philip K. (October 21, 1962). "The Story Behind an $18 Million Mutiny: THE BOUNTY'S OTHER MUTINIES". Los Angeles Times. p. 1. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  17. ^ Brando p 269
  18. ^ "Mackin takes municipal court seat". Los Angeles Times. January 14, 1961. p. 12. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  19. ^ Brando p 270
  20. ^ Higham p 193
  21. ^ Higham p 193
  22. ^ Higham p 193
  23. ^ "How Richard Harris Told Off Brando". Los Angeles Times. 18 February 1962. p. A4.
  24. ^ Highman p 193
  25. ^ Bosworth, Patricia (2001). Marlon Brando. Thorndike. p. 201.
  26. ^ Liz Is Coming Home; Has Job Waiting for Her Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 3 Aug 1962: b10.
  27. ^ Kanfer, Stefan (2008). Somebody : the reckless life and remarkable career of Marlon Brando. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 175-178.
  28. ^ Crowther, Bosley (November 9, 1962). "Screen: New Version of 'Mutiny on Bounty' Seen at Loew's State". The New York Times: 31.
  29. ^ "Mutiny On The Bounty". Variety: 6. November 14, 1962.
  30. ^ Gill, Brendan (November 17, 1962). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 208.
  31. ^ Coe, Richard L. (November 21, 1962). "'Bounty' Sets Freudian Sail". The Washington Post: B8.
  32. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 30 (348): 4. January 1963.
  33. ^ Kanfer, Stefan (2008). Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando. Faber and Faber. p. 178. ISBN 9780571278787.
  34. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  35. ^ Higham p 194
  36. ^ "Top Rental Films of 1963". Variety. Penske Business Media. January 8, 1964. p. 37.
  37. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1962): Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  38. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty (1962): Awards". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2008.
  39. ^ "Official Ballot" (PDF). AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. American Film Institute. September 23, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  40. ^ "Gold Key: Mutiny on the Bounty". Grand Comics Database.
  41. ^ Gold Key: Mutiny on the Bounty at the Comic Book DB


  • Brando, Marlon (1994). Brando. Random House.
  • Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1971). The celluloid muse; Hollywood directors speak. Regnery.

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