Filmsite Movie Review
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

After six months of relief on the idyllic island of Tahiti, where most of the men married Tahitian natives, they reluctantly left after securing their breadfruit trees. It didn't take long for Bligh's viciousness to be displayed again. The incident that triggered the famous mutiny on board was Bligh's insistence that the sick, elderly ship's Dr. Bacchus (Dudley Digges) come topside to witness the flogging of five crew members caught attempting to desert the ship and return to Tahiti. When the deathly-ill, alcoholic doctor died while struggling in his effort to get up to the deck, Fletcher's restraint broke. When he saw his men being beaten, he raised his fist and cries:

Now you've given your last command on this ship. We'll be men again if we hang for it.

Fletcher called for mutiny, and the mutineers tied the Captain to the mast and taunted him. Christian saved Bligh from certain death at the hands of the mutineers, but refused to give up the mutiny, charging Bligh with murder:

I'll take my chance against the law. You'll take yours against the sea.

The Captain couldn't believe that he was being cast adrift in an open boat with eighteen other men - Byam and several others who were not part of the mutiny remained on board due to lack of room in the boat.

Bligh: But you're taking my ship. My ship.
Christian: Your ship? The King's ship, you mean. And you're not fit to command it. Into the boat!

Bligh threatened to avenge the mutineers:

Casting me adrift thirty five hundred miles from a port of call. You're sending me to my doom, eh? Well, you're wrong, Christian! I'll take this boat, as she floats, to England if I must. I'll live to see you - all of ya - hanging from the highest yardarm in the British fleet!

Amazingly, with only limited supplies and a few nautical instruments, Bligh was able to navigate the small boat on a 49 day, 3,618 mile voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies. The mutineers returned on The Bounty to the island of Tahiti where they lived happily for many months. Christian married Maimiti and Byam married Tehani.

On another British frigate - H.M.S Pandora, Bligh took command and returned a year later, vengefully determined to seek out the mutineers and other crew members who remained behind. In a hasty departure from the island, Fletcher Christian told Byam that he accepted his fate:

When you're back in England with the fleet again, you'll hear the hue and cry against me. From now on, they'll spell mutiny with my name. I regret that.

Byam and five others who did not participate in the mutiny, initially overjoyed that they were soon to return to England, were charged with mutiny and placed in irons. Their protestations of loyalty were ignored. When Bligh's search for The Bounty was unsuccessful following the wreck of The Pandora on a reef, the few remaining survivors were eventually, after another open boat trip, brought back to England to stand trial. Meanwhile, Christian journeyed to uninhabited Pitcairn Island [between Chile and Australia] to build new lives with the others, crashing and burning The Bounty so they could never leave.

In a mutiny/court-martial trial in England five years after sailing from Portsmouth, Midshipman Byam was called to testify. In a closing statement after he had been sentenced to hang, Byam disclosed all the cruelties and injustices imposed by Bligh. In a memorable speech, he suggested an alternative to flogging while denouncing Captain Bligh:

These men don't ask for comfort. They don't ask for safety...They ask only (for) the freedom that England expects for every man. If one man among you believed that - one man! - he could command the fleets of England. He could sweep the seas for England if he called his men to their duty, not by flaying their backs but by lifting their hearts - their..., that's all.

In the film's version of events, before Byam's sentence was carried out, the King pardoned him with a reprieve, and he was triumphantly returned to service in the British Navy.

Previous Page