The 1935 Academy Award for Best Picture. The AFI list of best 100 films of the century (the 20th, that is). With this pedigree, I expected great things from "Mutiny on the Bounty." But this film for me, while never less than entertaining, fell far short of greatness. It's a solid action film with a script more literate than your average action movie to be sure, but I was still left somewhat cold by it.
Much of the adoration of this film seems to spring from a love of the central performances, namely those of Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. Both of course are good, but Laughton's character suffers from a silent movie villain's one-noteness. He does sadistic well, but that's about all he's required to do. Clark Gable impressed me more, and made me think that maybe he's a better actor than I ever gave him credit for. But for me, the standout performer (and the one I hear the least about) is Franchot Tone, playing a young idealist, enamored with the romance of life at sea and not prepared for the petty brutalities and politics. Tone is forced to give the most nuanced performance, as he straddles the line between loyalty to upper command and humanity for his fellow shipmates. In contrast to Laughton and Gable's showy roles, Tone's is quiet and thoughtful, except for a last-minute soliloquy that he handles well.
The production is never less than impressive, especially for 1935. The special effects are solid, as is the attention paid to period detail. But for some reason, despite the good things I have to say about the film, I just never got that into it. It's like any number of solidly crafted films released today: competent, fairly intelligent and well done, but not especially artistic or unique. One gets the feeling that it achieves what it sets out to do; one just wished it had set out to do a little more than it does.