James Norman Hall’s house on the island of Tahiti is now a museum devoted to his writing career thanks to his daughter Nancy, whom I know. Hall gave The Society Islands an international reputation when he co-wrote Mutiny on the Bounty with Charles Nordhoff. Three major movies have been made about this famous mutiny that occurred in 1789. I have seen all of them, but I had never read the book. It was time. Mutiny on the Bounty, the book, was as easy to find as Mutiny on the Bounty, the films. I finished reading it last night and it’s still worthwhile.
Caroline Alexander wrote a book called The Bounty and subtitled it “The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty”. The book claims to be a New York Times Bestseller. The Hall and Nordhoff Mutiny on the Bounty that I read was published in 1932. In it, the captain of the ship called the Bounty is William Bligh. His temper is mentioned by page 37 when the seeds of discontent that led to the mutiny are being sown. His flawed command is explored early in the book. Bligh’s smallness of mind is already discussed on page 39. On page 36 this sentence appears, “The men below brailed up the driver and made fast the vangs of its gaff.” Huh? This extreme nautical jargon is rare in Mutiny on the Bounty. The original 1932 story is basically about 2 great love affairs. One involves Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny, and the other is based on a completely fictitious character named Roger Byam.
Fletcher Christian’s love for a Tahitian girl is a big plot element in all 3 of the major movies. She was played by Movita Castaneda, a Mexican-American actress, in the first filming of Mutiny on the Bounty. She was played by a Tahitian girl named Tarita Teriipia in the 1962 version starring Marlon Brando as Christian. Brando married Tarita in 1962, and the marriage lasted for 10 stormy years. In 1984’s film The Bounty, Mel Gibson’s love interest was played by Tevaite Vernette, a Tahitian actress. This was reportedly her only acting role. The Bounty was the 5th film version of the story, and its screenplay was based on Richard Hough’s book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian.
In my opinion, the 1935 film of Hall and Nordhoff’s Mutiny on the Bounty remains the best movie version. It starred Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and won the Best Picture Academy Award. This film is said to have some historical inaccuracies. The 1962 Brando version is the poorest of the 3. It is far too long and ponderous. The Mel Gibson version is probably the most historically correct and a fine film.
The actual mutiny didn’t occur in Tahiti. It happened 35 miles from Tofua, a mountain on the island of Tonga. Tofua is called Tofoa in the Hall and Nordhoff book.