Behind the Camera On MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY
Monday August, 11 2014 at 06:00 AM
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Producer Aaron Rosenberg had originally planned to shoot in sequence on Mutiny on the Bounty, starting with shipboard scenes under the gray skies of October, then bursting into color with scenes shot in Tahiti. With the reconstructed Bounty arriving late to the location, director Carol Reed had to start shooting the island sequences first, or any footage that did not require the ship in the background. Even then, Reed ran out of completed script pages before the Bounty arrived.
The Bounty created more problems when it arrived. Even though it was larger than the original ship, the vessel was so small crew members were hard pressed to find places to hide so they would be out of camera range. And the ship reacted so violently to each ocean wave that there was an epidemic of seasickness.
With Marlon Brando still unhappy with the screenplay, Eric Ambler returned to Hollywood. His first replacement was Howard Clewes. When that didn't work out, Charles Lederer arrived to take over the writing chores.
Brando fell in love with the Tahitian location. In particular, he valued not being recognized everywhere he went and enjoyed the attentions of several of the Tahitian women. When MGM hired Tarita, a dishwasher from a local restaurant, to play Christian's wife, he not only coached her personally on her dialogue but began a relationship with her. They would marry in August 1962 after Brando ended his marriage to Movita, who had appeared in the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty.
As shooting dragged on, the rainy season hit, further disrupting production. Days were lost as torrents of rain -- at times as much as 17 inches in one day -- fell on the sets. After 17 days of being unable to film due to weather, the company returned to the MGM lot in Culver City to shoot interiors.
Carol Reed began to clash with Brando and MGM studio management early in the production. He and Brando disagreed about the interpretation of Captain Bligh, whom Brando wanted presented as an unambiguous and obvious villain, and Christian, whom Brando wanted to play as a fop. Reed also had problems with the screenplay, but when he tried to omit certain scenes from the shooting schedule, executives ordered him to shoot directly from the script. He tried to convince production head Sol Siegel to fire Brando on the grounds that he was holding up production. When that didn't work, he asked to be relieved, but production head Sol Siegel refused to allow it. Then Siegel decided to fire him. Had Reed been allowed to quit, he would have been paid nothing for his time, but since MGM fired him, he pocketed $200,000 for his time on the film.
Lederer suggested they hire Lewis Milestone, whose masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) had been a pioneer in the creative use of sound on film. Milestone only agreed to do the film after speaking with Reed, who assured him he had wanted to leave. Things went well for two weeks. Then Milestone noticed Brando talking to the cameraman before shooting a scene. When Milestone called "Roll 'em," nothing happened until Brando gave the nod. When the scene ended, Milestone decided to see what would happen if he didn't call "Cut." The cameras stopped as soon as the last line had been delivered, and nobody asked him if they should print the take. During the filming of the next scene that day, Milestone didn't attempt to give any direction and read the Hollywood Reporter instead. This behavior brought Rosenberg to the set to ask if Milestone was quitting. Milestone assured him that it wasn't worth risking a lawsuit to quit the film. As shooting dragged on, however, he did try to quit, only to let Siegel talk him into staying in order to avoid any further negative pre-release press stories about the film. Nonetheless, he warned Siegel, "This guy Brando is going to ruin you." Then he sighed and said, "Oh well, it's MGM's money. I'll stay."
As filming continued, Brando slowed down production, questioning each line in the script and each of Milestone's suggestions. He also demanded repeated re-writes to meet his ever-changing vision of the film. Most days started with Brando and Lederer going over the day's scenes in private until well past noon, when the actor would finally emerge ready to shoot. Although Brando often derided the director as mechanical and unfeeling and even suggested he was going senile, whenever Milestone threatened to quit, it was Brando who begged him to return.
The production returned to Tahiti in July, but relations between Brando and Milestone were still tense, and the script was still being re-written daily. The rest of the cast dealt with the tense film set by drinking heavily as soon as shooting had finished for the day. One morning, Trevor Howard was nowhere to be found until the local police drove him to the dock two hours after his call; He had been up drinking and carousing all night, but still performed his scene flawlessly.
Brando remained standoffish with the British cast. Moreover, he alienated several of them with his chronic lateness on the set and his habit of changing his interpretation of scenes after rehearsing them. On the day they shot the scene where the natives welcome the Bounty to their island, he repeatedly ignored calls to the set while he was talking to some local women. When he finally showed up, Howard, who had been sweltering in the hot sun waiting, lost his temper and walked off the set, making Brando wait for him.
Not only did Brando improvise his lines in scenes with Howard, making it impossible for his co-star to pick up his cues, but he even started putting cotton in his ears so he couldn't hear Howard's lines.
During the final weeks of location filming on Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando decided to move into an abandoned villa 30 miles further from the shoot than his previous home. MGM spent several thousand dollars remodeling the place so he could live in it for two weeks.
After the Tahitian shoot, the company returned to Culver City in search of a decent script for the Pitcairn Island scenes. Eventually, Lederer brought in his friend Ben Hecht to help with the final scenes. When they finally produced something that met Brando's approval, he agreed to film it without any more overtime. He could afford to be generous. By that time, his overtime payments had amounted to $750,000. He also directed the final scenes. Milestone showed up each day, but nobody bothered to call him to the set.
Milestone never directed another film (though he did direct two TV series episodes before his death in 1980). His final take for the film was $250,000. In later interviews he would estimate that Brando's behavior had cost the production $6 million.
Production on Mutiny on the Bounty finally ground to a halt in October 1961, more than a year after filming had started. But they still didn't have an ending, mainly because nobody could figure out why Christian's crewmates would kill him. Finally, director Billy Wilder suggested that if Christian decided to sail back to England to be tried in court that would provide a motivation for the ship's burning with Christian on board. Brando then submitted a list of three directors he would work with on the final scenes. Milestone was not included. George Seaton , who had never worked with the actor, agreed on condition that there be no publicity. He also refused to accept payment. Brando was the soul of professionalism during that final week of shooting. When it came time for his death scene, Seaton informed him that dying from severe burns was similar to freezing to death. As a result, Brando shot his death scene in a bed filled with ice. They could only do three takes at a time, as he was so cold his skin turned blue. The scenes were shot in August 1962, almost a year after the end of principal photography.
Before Mutiny on the Bounty was released, the Saturday Evening Post published a scathing article about the production titled "The Mutiny of Marlon Brando." Drawing largely on an interview with Milestone, they recounted everything Brando had done to delay the production, with little mention of problems with the Bounty set or the weather on location. Brando got the new head of MGM, Joseph R. Vogel, to issue a statement exonerating him from any role in the film's escalating budget or production delays (that statement would later be used against Vogel when he was fired) and sued the magazine for $5 million. He would drop the case before it came to trial.
Brando would contend that the real problem with the film was MGM's failure to deliver a complete script in the year and a half he worked on the film, despite numerous promises to do so, even when he threatened to stop reporting to work. He also claimed the studio inflated the film's budget, adding $6 million in overhead charges, including the cost for rights to the original novels.
To promote the film, MGM sent the Bounty on a round-the-world cruise to visit the various cities where the film was to open. When it reached London, Howard joined a crowd of admiring on-lookers to watch it sail up the Thames, where the Tower Bridge was raised to let it pass. When a publicity man asked Howard, "She is beautiful, isn't she?" He replied, "Of course. She's mine."
by Frank Miller
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