Mutiny on the Bounty

Fresh off the success of its widescreen remake of BEN-HUR in 1959, M-G-M greenlit another famous epic—a remake of the studio’s 1935 Best Picture Oscar winner, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. The tale of the famous 1789 mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty would seem ripe for a bright, Technicolor touch-up. But as directors and writers came and went, and star Marlon Brando wreaked havoc on the set with his constant demands and his “Method” acting, production costs continued to mount and the film nearly sank the studio.

Fans of the classic 1935 film may be surprised by the two lead performances in the 1962 remake. Brando’s brooding, foppish Fletcher Christian is far from the gung-ho he-man of Clark Gable.  And Trevor Howard’s understated Captain Bligh can’t match Charles Laughton’s menacing performance in the original. The film made a boatload of money, but still less than half (or more) of the reported budget costs. If the 1962 film is missing the dramatic drive of the original, pitch-perfect art direction aboard the actual ship, sweeping cinematography and especially Bronislau Kaper’s magnificent seafaring score do their best to keep this ship afloat.

Kaper’s “Bounty” theme is regal and majestic, as befitting a ship of Her Majesty’s fleet. Oboe, bassoon and accordion convey the lighthearted atmosphere of Portsmouth Harbor as the crew readies the ship. Violins swell with the storm at sea.

A conch horn signals the ship’s arrival in Tahiti with ethnic drums leading the way. Polynesian voices sing the beautiful Oscar-nominated love theme for Fletcher and Maimiti (Tarita), “Follow, Follow Me” (lyrics by Paul Francis Webster). A syncopated orchestra accompanies one of the most memorable scenes occurs as members of the crew help the Tahitian women who stand in the bay like a “string of live pearls” to catch fish. Crackerjack action music pushes the Tahitian royal barge to catch up with the outrigger containing deserting Bounty crewmembers. Fletcher’s death scene contains some of the score’s most beautiful music as the love theme plays as a threnody in the strings.

The best aspects of the film and music come together early on as the Bounty prepares to leave the harbor. Martial brass signal the crew to prep the ship and the celeste swirls as the masts unfurl. Kaper’s majestic “Bounty” theme, a short quote of “Rule Brittania” and wailing French horns send the ship on its way in fine form.

In 2004, Film Score Monthly finally released the complete (and then some) BOUNTY as its 100th CD. The superb 3-CD set contains numerous alternate versions (much of Kaper’s score had to be rewritten twice, sometimes three or four times) and detailed notes about the troubled production and the score.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY was Kaper’s final score at M-G-M and his final Osar nomination in a long and distinguished career. It is a rousing piece of dramatic scoring and a memorable film score from an underappreciated master of the genre.

8 comments

  1. This is one of my Top 10 film scores of all time! The FSM release is a revelation and every film scores fan should own a copy. There are plenty of cues – especially the action material – that wouldn’t be out of place in a film made today. Sensational music!

    -Erik-

  2. I agree! This is one of the great symphonic scores, and highly definitive of seafaring adventure films. I have a hard time choosing between Bernstein’s HAWAII arrival and Kaper’s for Tahiti – both are memorably spectacular!
    I’m also a big fan of this relatively unpopular 1962 remake of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. I think it is luxurious looking; and both Brando and Howard actually add some welcome humor to the oft-told story. I have a copy on the now-defunct, HD-DVD format, and there is much to appreciate in high-definition, so hopefully Warners is intending to at least transfer that superb video master to blu-ray in the near future. Kaper, in particular, deserves the DTS-HD treatment for his work on this one!

    1. I also watched it in HD-DVD, Gary, and it looked spectacular. I can only imagine how much better the video and especially the audio could be on Blu-ray. Here’s hoping one day. Maybe next year for the 50th anniversary?

  3. One of the very best of a very select group of superlative scores that came out in the early sixties and whilst not being accorded Oscars have remained enduring cinema classics and stood the test of time being just as spine tingling as they were back then.

    1. I wonder what it is about that period of film music… Did it have anything to do with the breakdown of the studio system? Last gasp of creativity? New-found freedom? Hmm…

  4. can anyone tell me what the violin music is in the captains cabin where they play together please?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *