In 1962, I was taken by my parents to see a lavish epic at the cinema. Starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris, this was a glorious tecnicolour film , with exotic south seas locations, and a real sense of history. As it is a true story, there would be no surprises of course, but that didn’t matter. All we had to do was to sit back and let the lavish spectacle wash over us. And we did, and we loved it. My Dad had told me that it was a remake, and he had seen a version made in 1935, starring Clark Gable, with Charles Laughton as the stern Captain Bligh. But I hadn’t seen that one, so was content with the wonderful film I got to see when I was just 10 years old.
Just over five years later, I got the chance to see that earlier film, and thought that Laughton was superb in the role of Bligh. Despite Gable being Gable, I wondered for a long time whether or not I actually preferred the 1935 black and white film.
Much later, I found out that both were remakes. The first version of this story had been made into a film in 1933, called ‘In The Wake Of The Bounty’. Made in Australia, it gave Errol Flynn his first starring role, and is more or less forgotten now. It concerned itself more with the aftermath of the famous mutiny, and the lives of the mutineers. I have never seen it, so will have to exclude it from this comparison.
When I was 32 years old, in 1984, the story got the remake treatment once again, this time called ‘The Bounty’. Anthony Hopkins starred as Bligh, with Mel Gibson as Christian, as well as roles for Laurence Olivier, and Edward Fox. The excellent cast is further enhanced by the presence of Bernard Hill, Phil Davis, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson. I saw a trailer, and liked the look of it, so went off to the cinema to see it. And I was glad I did. Life at sea was convincing, and the relationship between Bligh and Christian better developed. It felt authentic too, especially in the sequences where the ship is having trouble sailing in terrible weather. On this occasion, the casting won through, and I thought the film was excellent, the best version I had seen
Not only was a remake better than the original version I had seen, it was better than no less than three earlier versions. Something very unusual, as far as I am concerned.