Charles Laughton is the world’s perfect on-screen jerk. Sadistic, uncaring, cruel, and dead set on punishing everyone aboard his ship, Laughton became the best Captain Bligh of the multiple film versions of Mutiny on the Bounty because you believe him.
It’s not enough that he dishes out punishment more than food, but he does it with a smug look, completely oblivious to how he is crossing the line and taking advantage of his entire crew. He makes the film, overshadowing even Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, taking this story of abusive power to another level.
Mutiny is especially violent considering it’s mid-1930’s origins. People are punched, a hand is skewered by a bayonet, blood flows quite freely, and there’s no shortage of just off-screen brutality either as the mutiny itself gets underway.
In direct contrast is Tahiti, the island location shoot producing classical cinematic romance, an added sense of adventure, and that emotional push as the crew and their woman are pulled from each other. It’s a place where friendly exchanges are common, food is in abundance, and the crew is allowed to break free from their overworked shells.
There are a number of supporting roles filling out the crew, Byam (Franchot Tone) fiercely loyal to his captain on his day in court where Bligh’s tyranny continues to save his own hide. Even the ship itself is a character, grandly sailing above the seas majestically, and in some harsh conditions adding to the reality of it all where photographic effects of the ’30s do not.
Mutiny’s ending is not the standard fare for Hollywood, on the surface all seemingly resolved, but not under the best conditions. The men who fought back are now outcasts, stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere in a string of survival and no way out except certain death back on their homeland. It’s a fantastic cap to this story of simply dreadful seamanship, and a true story worthy of the screen in its multiple incarnations. As is the standard fare, none can top the original.
Warner releases this classic in Digibook form with a generally adequate VC-1 encode. The film stock(s) utilized here tend to fluctuate with regularity, with at times wonderfully resolved fine grain, with spikes where the compression tends to lose the battle. The problem is apparent early before the ship even leaves the shore at 4:50, the screen awash with what amounts more to artifacts than a film-like appearance. When the grain becomes fully out of control, say 1:08:15, it’s completely destroyed by the inadequacy of the encoding, even if the image maintains its other qualities. A shot of the ship plowing through a layer of fog at 1:52:33 is also poorly handled by this disc.
Warner’s consistency lies in the prints themselves, Mutiny not quite up to the level of a King Kong in terms of limited damage. The print suffers from a number of scenes with lines streaking vertically down the frame, the first at 8:55, the rest sporadically appearing throughout. Dirt and other print anomalies appear on the bottom and top of the frame as well although not with any regularity. The end result remains a typically crisp image, sharpness reproduced without any needless enhancements.
Inconsistencies are purely part of the source, from the rare drop-outs where an obviously lower-quality stock was spliced in for a few frames to the rather drastic difference between the general print and the storm sequence 28-minutes in. The latter is incredibly soft, some shots certainly affected by the limited visual fidelity afforded to them due to the visual effects. Others appear this way simply due to their nature or age, not because of the encode.
Gray scale is superlative, yet another winner from Warner in this regard. Few scenes lose their overall depth, the blacks never succumbing to crush, and the whites remaining pure. Bligh is generally cloaked in a deep, black jacket which always holds some detail. The clarity is also on this same level, the transfer rife with textural fidelity at times. A number of brief, rapidly edited close-ups are superb at 31:39, a round-up of the crewman as they look on at the argument on board. Shots of Tahiti, especially those establishing views of the island, reproduce the extensive array of trees with more than merely adequate definition. The detail level is striking. Luckily, that’s where most of this transfer lies, in that realm of seamless film-to-digital conversion that is as transparent as could be expected for most of the film’s 132-minute run time.
A DTS-HD 1.0 mono mix is excellent in overall fidelity, the slight hiss that exists under the audio the trade-off. The light static can be elevated, a conversation in the Captain’s Quarters 18-minutes in a point of contention, but this is a mix that is certainly consistent if nothing else.
The track is stable and clear, the boisterous, powerful score succumbing to a minimal level of distortion at its peak. It never drops out, balanced within the other effects including the hectic storms and yelling from the crew. Dialogue is clean enough to remain natural despite the minimal hissing, and like the score, free of any intense deviations from that standard of quality.
Extras are not given the same lavish attention as some of the other classical releases from the studio, a vintage look at the Pitcairn Island (Christian’s eventual landing site) that runs almost 10-minutes, a brief newsreel clip of Mutiny’s Academy Award win, and some trailers, including the 1960’s remake are all that’s here.