It made Oscar history as the first film to earn Best Actor nominations for all three of its male leads (an admittedly distinguished crew that included Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone), and 75 years later, director Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty remains an absolutely gripping 133 minutes of high seas adventure. Yeah, it’s in black and white — so what? If you love movies, and you haven’t seen the first of Hollywood’s adaptations of the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel, you need to repent right away, and this Blu-ray is the best way to do it.
Synopsis: The highlight of Mutiny on the Bounty is undoubtedly Charles Laughton’s bracingly evil performance as Captain Bligh, a man so mean that he insists on having a dead sailor flogged. Bligh pushes his men beyond physical endurance, slashes their rations for his own profit, and drastically cuts down their frolicking time with scantily clad Tahitians. Finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives: first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) hits his limit and all hell breaks loose.
Video: You’d have to be an idiot to expect a pristine picture from this release, but whatever Warners could have done with the 75-year-old film stock, they’ve done — the new Mutiny transfer boasts improved contrast, heightened detail, and only minor occasional irregularities. The disc even presents the film in its original aspect ratio — a 1.37:1 pillarbox rather than the letterbox we’ve grown accustomed to.
Audio: Like the video presentation, the Mutiny soundtrack is true to the original, presenting it in DTS-HD Master Audio mono; it’s significantly cleaned up, but devoid of any post-op shenanigans designed to artificially expand its scope. You’ll hear some hiss, and it won’t come anywhere near putting your audio system through its paces, but it sounds right.
Special Features: Alone among Warner Bros. Blu-ray digibooks, Mutiny on the Bounty doesn’t have many special features — just a brief featurette about the real-life Pitcairn Island (filmed not long after Mutiny) and a newsreel clip about its Best Picture Oscar win, along with a pair of trailers (one for the 1962 version starring Marlon Brando). The 32-page booklet that’s bound into the packaging contains its fair share of interesting tidbits (including a note about how the filmmakers had to use makeup to cover the island girls’ navels), but it’s a little hard to believe the studio couldn’t have dug up something else to go with the disc.
Bottom Line: You can’t watch a globetrotting adventure filmed in the ’30s without sitting through some hokey moments and painful stereotypes, and that’s true for Mutiny, too — but you’ll be too wrapped up in the movie to notice. This is one impeccably well-acted film, led by the dashing Gable and a marvelously detestable, beautifully nuanced performance from Laughton as Captain Bligh. In a lot of cases, it’s hard to understand a classic’s appeal so far removed from its original context, but this isn’t the case with Mutiny on the Bounty. It’s as gripping as it was when it originally sailed into theaters.