#4 Golden Age of Hollywood Series
If you were a baseball player in the 1930’s, you wanted to play for the New York Yankees. And if you were an actor or an actress, you wanted to work for MGM.
Both the Yankees and MGM had all the money, all the power, and most importantly, all the stars.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was the first to perfect what is now called the star system.
In this system, the studios identified young actors and actresses with potential and signed them to long term contracts in which the studios had near total control of their career.
MGM was looking for more than talent, more than beauty. They were looking for blank canvases on which they could paint, raw clay that they could mold.
They wanted to make stars.
The studio managed their parts and their personal lives. Actresses were required to always appear in public smartly dressed and in full makeup—no tabloid photographs in yoga pants with a Big Gulp. Affairs and assorted bad behavior were covered up. Fake dates were set up to encourage the press to speculate on potential pairings.
Twitter would’ve been strictly off-limits.
Think Taylor Swift and her carefully cultivated reinventions—from curly-haired teenager singing her diary, to constantly jilted lover (did she really date all those boys?), to squad goals feminist pushing back against The Man.
Each MGM star had a designated persona—Garbo the ice queen, Jean Harlow the blonde sexpot, Jimmy Stewart the everyman.
And then you had Clark Gable. Dubbed The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable was the finest leading man to ever grace the silver screen. By the end of his life, he’d made more than sixty movies over nearly forty years. And if that wasn’t enough, he put his career on hold to serve in the Air Force during World War II and fly active combat missions. Hollywood would never be the same without him.
He was debonair, with a rakish grin and a glint in his eyes. He oozed sex, charm, and charisma.
All of which were on full display in the 1935 Best Picture Academy Award winner Mutiny On The Bounty. And I couldn’t help but also notice the devilishly handsome lock of hair that is always perfectly out of place.
Another fascinating true story, Mutiny is a tale of adventure as the British Navy starts a two-year voyage to the West Indies on the HMS Bounty under the leadership of William Bligh, a brilliant but cruel captain.
Gable plays Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, who enforces Bligh’s strict discipline on the sailors with compassion and good humor.
The crew, several of whom have been unwillingly pressed into service via a British Law that allows the captain to effectively kidnap British subjects and force them into the Navy, are filled with unease when Captain Bligh orders the flogging of a sailor, and insists the punishment continue even after the soldier is dead.
Captain Bligh imposes increasingly severe punishments for minor rule infractions, and the crew—Christian included—are relieved when they drop anchor in Tahiti and are granted furloughs.
After a taste of freedom, the men chafe even more beneath Captain Bligh’s thumb.
The movie’s tension increases with each unjustified punishment. The Captain has men flogged, he orders them on dangerous unnecessary tasks, he cuts their water rations to prioritize the precious plants he is hauling as cargo.
We know the men will turn on Captain Bligh—the mutiny is in the title of the film. The question is which straw will break Christian’s back—for the men will not mutiny without his leadership.
When Christian finds one of Bligh’s men kicking the starved and shackled prisoners for asking for water, he’s had enough.
In a tear of rage, he changes the fate of every man on the ship when he raises his fist in the air and bellows, “Bligh, you’ve given your last command on this ship! We’ll be men again if we hang for it!”
And make no mistake, they will hang for it.
A British Navy Captain must be obeyed, regardless of his cruelty.
But only if he lives to tell the tale.
Christian casts Bligh and a handful of his supporters adrift on a small boat with barely enough water to survive. It’s tantamount to murder as they are 3,500 miles from any port.
But they can never go home, and Christian knows that if Captain Bligh finds a way to survive, he and the other mutineers will indeed hang, “from the highest yardarm in the British Fleet.”
In the third and most thrilling act of the film, Bligh fights to survive so that he may one day have his vengeance, as Christian and the mutineers look for a place where Bligh and the British Navy can never find them.
If you want to find out if the King of Hollywood can outrun one of the most persistent and ruthless villains in film history, you’ll have to watch this 1935 Best Picture winner and find out for yourself.
Want more? Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.