Cropped screenshot of Charles Laughton from th...

Cropped screenshot of Charles Laughton from the trailer for the film Mutiny on the Bounty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never read Mutiny on the Bounty, but the ’35 film version, for all the sappy-silly Tahiti material, seems a well-made and even felt adaptation.

Captain Bligh is an expert seaman but also a mean fool, wanting only to impose his ruthless will.  Charles Laughton plays him with astonishing aplomb, frighteningly. . . Second in command Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) simply refuses to have men at Bligh’s mercy any longer, uncondonable though some of the Bounty’s sailors find the mutiny.  Incontestable here is an urgent need for the liberalization of the English navy, with the navy itself seen as utterly honorable and necessary by the filmmakers.  It becomes almost palpable that the film is liberal—though certifiably separate from today’s liberalism—because it is conservative.  It wants what is best for a timeless institution.

A great deal goes on in Mutiny on the Bounty, which is two hours and ten minutes long.  Frank Lloyd directed with a fine sense of seafaring adventure and of grandeur.  It is, I think, a masterpiece.