Blogging Best Picture: 1935, "Mutiny on the Bounty"

One of my viewing projects this summer has been working my way through the fifteen or so Best Picture Oscar winners that I’d never seen before—and, let me tell you, in most cases I realized pretty quickly why that was the case. There are good reasons why most people have seen, or at least heard of, such films as The Godfather and Kramer vs. Kramer and It Happened One Night and not, say, The Life of Emile Zola.

I began with Wings (1927) and have been progressing chronologically since, which means that I’ve been spending most of the past several weeks watching winners from the 1929-1938 range. Not the Academy’s finest hour. But they’re getting better…slowly. Tonight I finished up Mutiny on the Bounty, from 1935, which is a considerable improvement on 1934’s Cavalcade, even considering that they share the same director, Frank Lloyd. Having just finished slogging through Cavalcade, I wasn’t looking forward to another two hours of ham-fisted montage sequences. But I was happily surprised to find Mutiny a good deal more fun than I had expected: it’s got a workable script, and it benefits hugely from the star power of its lead actors. Clark Gable is reliably dashing as the mutinous Fletcher Christian, though I didn’t believe for a second that he supposed to be a native of Cumberland. And Charles Laughton is suitably loathsome as the sadistic Captain Bligh. It’s a magnificent performance, with Laughton’s pear face and down-turned mouth making him look more than ever like a John Tenniel illustration. Did I mention that this is roughly ten times better than Cavalcade? Seriously, though, it was slim pickings back in 1935. Take a look at the list of Mutiny’s Best Picture competitors and you’ll see that there’s not a clear winner in the bunch—though the test of time has made clear that Top Hat is the best of them. Be sure to check back later this summer when I rank my favorites from worst to best.

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