Problems with Mutiny on the Bounty, 1960

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Textual Reference at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a major 1962 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris.  It is a fictionalized account of the true mutiny that took place on HMAV Bounty in April 1789, while sailing in the South Pacific.  The ship, under the command of William Bligh had set out from England in 1787, for the South Pacific on a botanical expedition.  In the movie, the first officer, Fletcher Christian, leads a mutiny due to Blight’s autocratic methods.

Movie Poster for Mutiny on the Bounty (1960)

The motion picture was a large undertaking.  Filmed in color and widescreen format on location in Tahiti, it featured a reproduction of the ship that was built in Nova Scotia.  Filming in Tahiti, a French colony, began in 1960.  Production was plagued by script issues, delay in arrival of the ship, conflicts among the actors, problems with local authorities, and bad weather.  As might be expected, the arrival of a large motion picture production was bound to have an impact on local conditions. 

In December 1960, the American consulate in Suva, Fiji Islands, which had consular responsibility for Tahiti, sent a report on the local effects.  Consul David Ernst reported that they offered assistance, but was told that the problems being encountered were not “of a type calling for official help.”  The production director did note that “he had never encountered such difficulties before in making a film abroad.”  He further noted that “they were mostly a compounding of little nuisance type things, and generally relations with the local authorities were proceeding adequately.”  On the other hand, Ernst reported that “French officials . . . told me that they were not entirely happy about M.G.M.’s presence.”  Among other things, locals were unhappy that M.G.M. “had completely wrecked the local price structure.”  The result was “a public relations problem of some importance.” 

report of consul-Production director of movie finds trouble w/how everything needed govt approval; cast/crew took up most of hotel capacity
movie crew impacted tourism industry, disrupted the local economy w/elevated wages
MGM impact has aggravated distorted imgs of the US in minds of French officials and locals
American Consulate Suva to Department of State, Despatch No. 52, December 12, 1960 (NAID 302021)

The movie came out in 1962, and was widely considered a flop.  It lost money and contributed to a serious downturn in Brando’s reputation and career.

Source: American Consulate Suva to Department of State, Despatch No. 52, December 12, 1960, file 811.452/12-1260, 1960-63 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.