I'm writing this in the few remaining hours of Daylight Savings in New York City. Tomorrow, the darkness creeps in an hour earlier. Subsequently, each day will see the sunset arrive sooner than the day before... Well, okay, that makes it sound far more foreboding than is necessary. Still, I'll be hotfooting it soon to the other side of the equator, where not only is the day getting longer, but warmer too. Kat and I have a visit home to Sydney planned for Christmas and New Year's. But more on that later...
Yesterday, I viewed the last in the shortlist for 1962's Best Picture crown...
Mutiny on the Bounty
(based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall)
Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Tarita, Percy Herbert
Based on a novel which was itself based on a true story, Mutiny on the Bounty is apparently not entirely accurate in its portrayal of the famous maritime feud. Nonetheless, the film is a remarkably successful application of the adage, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."
In 1787, the British Royal Navy sends the H.M.S. Bounty and its captain, William Bligh (Howard), on an expedition to collect breadfruit from Tahiti. The captain's cruel and inconsiderate treatment of the crew hits a nerve with the ship's first mate Fletcher Christian (Brando), but he holds his tongue for the moment. After spending five months in Tahiti waiting for the new breadfruit crop to yield (and making the most of the island lifestyle, if you know what I mean), the crew take on board dozens more plants than they originally intended to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, there is not enough water on board to keep all the plants alive, so Bligh reduces the crew's rations. Problem solved. This, along with a few more heartless acts, slowly pushes Christian over the edge and, with the aid of some of the unhappier members of the crew, he orchestrates a mutiny. (I know. I've just given away a major plot twist. In my defense, though, it is in the title. Clearly, the producers of the Mel Gibson version knew better.)
There is never a dull moment in Mutiny on the Bounty, which is no mean feat for a three-hour movie. But it's not just because of the thrilling action scenes. A big part of the film's power comes from the intense psychological battle between the two main characters. Both men are loyal to their country but their ideas on how best to affirm their patriotism are polar opposites, as are their leadership techniques. Their disdain for each other is apparent due to several bitter yet contained exchanges. Indeed, the script is clever enough to keep their conflict simmering on low heat until the right moment, resulting in some utterly engaging drama. The witty and refined dialogue doesn't hurt either. For example, when asked about his feelings regarding the mutiny, Christian remarks that he does not regret his actions "except for a slight desire to be dead which I'm sure will pass."
The seductive nature of the love story between Christian and his Tahitian girlfriend, Maimiti (played by Tarita), seems slightly gratuitous, akin to the absurdity of Captain Kirk's alien conquests. Maimiti's father, who happens to be the tribal Chief (and is peculiarly portrayed as a giggling buffoon), delivers an ultimatum barring the Britons from taking any breadfruit unless Christian sleeps with his daughter. Still, the real Fletcher Christian ended up marrying Maimiti, plus Brando married Tarita, so stranger things have happened, I guess.
Marlon Brando is obscenely watchable as the head mutineer. Affecting a flawless British accent, his natural mannerisms and constant thought processes are nothing short of captivating. He is matched by Trevor Howard's strong turn as the stubbornly tyrannical William Bligh, expertly delivering his many biting lines. Also compelling is future Hogwarts principal Richard Harris as Seaman John Mills. And as glad as I am to see legendary Aussie actor Chips Rafferty in the cast, his broad Australian accent is more than a little inappropriate for the time period. British settlement of the land down under did not occur until 1788.
The other Australian connection to the film is the fact that William Bligh eventually became the 4th Governor of my home state of New South Wales. His horrid luck with insubordination continued, however, when he was deposed in a military coup known as the Rum Rebellion. Clearly not meant to be a leader.