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Mutiny on the Bounty

(1935) *** 1/2 Unrated
132 min. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Director: Frank Lloyd. Cast: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Eddie Quillan.

/content/films/3888/1.jpg"Maritime madness"—or the perception of same—has always made compelling drama, from The Caine Mutiny to The Hunt for Red October. Sailors chafed by close quarters and harsh conditions perhaps need to fear and love their commanding officer if they're to get the job done. No ship's captain has ever been more fearful than Charles Laughton's Captain William Bligh in the 1935 Oscar-winning Best Picture Mutiny on the Bounty, and as the title indicates, he wasn't feeling the love. Winston Churchill purportedly said, ""Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash." Warner Brothers' epic high-seas adventure steered away from the second item on that list—opting instead for the exotic appeal of island beauties—but rum and the lash are well in evidence.

Director Frank Lloyd was known for his seafaring films, a reputation that peaked with Mutiny on the Bounty. Granted a reported budget of nearly $2 million, Lloyd shot for nearly two years (part of that time in Tahiti) and was rewarded with eight Oscar nominations (including an uneard-of three nods in the Best Actor category) and about $4.5 million in box office receipts in its initial run. The script by Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman and Carey Wilson derives from Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall's trilogy of novels The Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn's Island. The story concerns a British naval voyage launched from Portsmouth in 1787, with a mission of transporting breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, where it would serve as cheap food for colonial slaves. His Majesty's Armed Vessel the Bounty set sail under the command of Captain Bligh, but two years later, the most famous mutiny in naval history forever blotted Bligh's record. Historians disagree as to the cause of the historical mutiny and whether or not it may have been justified by unnecessary cruelty on the part of Bligh, but Nordhoff & Hall's novels fictionalize the story as a clear-cut clash of wills between an egotistical, selfish, brutal Bligh and his first officer, reasonable man-of-the-people Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable, cutting a heroic figure).

Heightening the drama is the man in the middle: Franchot Tone's Midshipman Roger Byam. The performances by Gable and Tone hold up as fine star and character turns, respectively, but it's Laughton's Bligh that proves unforgettable. A method actor before anyone had ever heard of such a thing, Laughton reportedly enlisted London tailor the Gieves Company—who retained measurements of the historical Bligh—to recreate precisely the captain's uniform; then Laughton lost 55 pounds to fit into the costume. Hollywood legend? Perhaps, but Time's 1935 review of Mutiny on the Bounty adds fuel to the fire by  claiming that Laughton, then "preparing to appear in an English version of Cyrano de Bergerac...learned [the original play] by heart in French and had up to last week written out twelve copies by memory." Perhaps not so coincidentally, Laughton also had a triumph directing the 1954 Broadway-premiere production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. As for Mutiny on the Bounty, the story has received four other feature-film treatments, including 1984's The Bounty, with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian, but the dynamic Lloyd version remains the most highly regarded: despite historical inaccuracies, Lloyd serves up thrilling action and a romantic vision of island life, as well as the central consideration of military discipline.

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Aspect ratios: 1.37:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono

Street date: 11/16/2010

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner does right by Mutiny on the Bounty in a Digibook special edition with restored video and audio. According to ther press release, the film has "undergone a full photochemical restoration sourced from the film['s] long-thought-lost, and recently rediscovered original nitrate camera negative." In other words, now we're talkin'. While never losing its film-like texture, the 75-year-old picture looks remarkably clean and wholly free of digital artifacts. The source isn't flawless: as expected of a film of this vintage, occasional scratches and dirt pop up, and there's some occasionally noticeable flickering or inconsistency of sharpness endemic to the original presentation of the film. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic hi-def presentation of Mutiny on the Bounty, which looks its very best. Audio comes in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono that can be considered definitive: it's not up to modern standards (too thin and rough for those), but hiss has been banished, dialogue is clear, and the elements are generally as clean as can be expected.

In addition to the 35-page digibook—illustrated with archival photos, production notes and trivia, promotional art, and profiles of Frank Lloyd, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone—Warner includes the 1935 MGM short "Pitcairn Island Today" (9:39, SD) promoting the film and taking a closer look at the titular setting; the "1936 Newsreel 'Mutiny on the Bounty Wins 1935 Award'" (1:00, SD), and two trailers: "Theatrical Trailer (1935)" (3:14, SD) and "Theatrical Trailer (1962)" (4:03, SD). Classic movie buffs should definitely claim this treasure as a vote of confidence in studio classics on hi-def Blu-ray.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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