In the Wake of the Bounty

In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) is an Australian film directed by Charles Chauvel about the 1789 Mutiny on the Bounty. It is notable as the screen debut of Errol Flynn, playing Fletcher Christian. The film preceded MGM's more famous Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, by two years.

In the Wake of the Bounty
Directed byCharles Chauvel
Produced byCharles Chauvel
Written byCharles Chauvel
StarringMayne Lynton
Errol Flynn
Narrated byArthur Greenaway
Music byLionel Hart
CinematographyTasman Higgins
Edited byWilliam Shepherd
Expeditionary Films
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Umbrella Entertainment
Release date
15 March 1933[1]
Running time
66 mins
Box office£7,000 (Australia)[3][4]


Chauvel's film uses introductory enacted scenes showing the mutiny, followed by documentary footage, anthropological style, of the mutineers' descendants on Pitcairn Island.[5] Chauvel also used footage of Polynesian women dancers; and film of an underwater shipwreck, filmed with a glass bottomed boat, which he believed was the Bounty but was probably not. This was Chauvel's first 'talkie' and he had clearly at this stage not yet learned to direct actors: the dialogue is very stiff and amateurish.[6] The use of long sections of documentary footage with a voice over, combined with acted scenes, is similar to the hybrid silent and talking pictures that were produced during the transition to sound. It also represents the combination of interests of the director, and he returned to documentary toward the end of his career with the BBC television series Walkabout.[7] Despite the poorly written dialogue,[8] the documentary sections retain their excellence. A return to enactments at the end of the film, with one scripted modern scene in which a child suffers because of the lack of regular ship visits which could have taken the child to hospital, probably sought to make the film a useful voice for the Pitcairn Island community, who had been generous with their participation.

The film mixed re-enactments with documentary, and focused not so much on the mutiny itself as on its consequences.[9]



There was at least one other film of the Bounty story prior to Chauvel's film, by Australians Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell, The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916), filmed in New Zealand.[10][11] This film was to be the first of a series of travel adventures to be made by Chauvel for his new company, Expeditionary Films.[12]

Documentary filming

In March 1932, Chauvel left Australia with his wife Elsa and cameraman Tasman Higgins and sailed to Pitcairn Island. They were there for three months shooting footage under sometimes extremely dangerous conditions, having to travel around the coast in whaleboats and climb up cliffs on ropes. They then joined a passing boat and went to Tahiti where they spent two months filming more footage.[2]

Chauvel and his crew returned to Sydney in September.[13] His unedited footage was confiscated by the Customs Department and viewed by the censors. They requested cuts of scenes of bare-breasted Tahitian dancers. Chauvel protested and succeeded in having the footage released to him uncut, subject to a censorship review after the completion of the film.[2]

In October 1932 Chauvel registered a script The Story of Pitcairn Island.[14]

Errol Flynn

The re-enactment scenes were shot on sets built at the studio of Cinesound Productions in Bondi.

There are different stories how Errol Flynn was cast. According to one, Chauvel saw his picture in an article about a yacht wreck involving Flynn.[15] The most common one is he was discovered by cast member John Warwick. His wage has been variously quoted as £3/10 a week[16] or £10 a week.[15]

Flynn would later claim to be descended from Bounty mutineers.[17]

Censorship issues

When the film was submitted to the censors, they objected to several scenes, including those with bare breasts and depictions of floggings. Chauvel protested that the dancing scenes were supervised by a Methodist clergyman.[18] Chauvel announced he would appeal and was successful in getting the film passed after a compromise version was agreed upon.[19][20] Chauvel had criticised the censors so much that the Minister for Customs was moved to defend them.[21][22]


The movie was released by Universal Pictures, whose Australian managing director, Herc McIntyre, became an important supporter of Chauvel throughout the director's career. It was described as a "middle grade" success at the box office.[3]


Critical opinion was generally positive about the documentary footage but not the dramatic scenes.[23]

According to Filmink magazine the movie:

Manages the considerable feat of turning one of the great sagas of maritime history into a barely watchable slog. It’s worth seeing today for Flynn completists and stunning footage of Pitcairn Island. The documentary scenes are fascinating, although watching it now with all we know about Pitcairn you can’t help thinking “those girls probably started having sex when they were twelve”. The dramatic sequences are pure amateur hour, like watching a small town community theatre production; Flynn’s physicality is awkward, he is uncomfortable even standing around, and his acting is all over the shop… but you can see why he was cast – he’s already got the profile, the voice, and flashes of the charisma.[24]

Sale of Footage

In 1935, some of the documentary scenes from Chauvel's film were bought by MGM and re-edited into trailers for the 1935 Hollywood film about the mutiny, as well as for two short promotional travelogues, Pitcairn Island Today (1935) and Primitive Pitcairn (1936).[25][26]

See also


  1. "EXPEDITIONARY FILMS, LTD". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 15 March 1933. p. 8. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  2. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 161.
  3. "Counting the Cash in Australian Films"', Everyones 12 December 1934 p 19
  4. Everyones, Everyones Ltd, 1920, retrieved 30 May 2018
  5. "IN THE WAKE OF THE BOUNTY". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 1 December 1933. p. 3. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  6. Curator's notes at Australian Screen
  7. Review on Reel Classics website
  8. Charles Chauvel at Australian screen
  9. Curators notes at Australian Screen
  10. information at Gilda's attic
  11. Fragments, advertising, stills are held at the National Film and Sound Archive
  12. "PERSONAL". The Brisbane Courier. National Library of Australia. 23 March 1932. p. 12. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  13. "MUTINY OF THE BOUNTY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 29 August 1932. p. 8. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  14. Copyright registration at National Archives of Australia
  15. "It All Began With a Feature Movie On The Kelly Gang". The News. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 16 November 1946. p. 2. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  16. "New Film On The Life Of Christ". The Sun-Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 23 May 1954. p. 70. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  17. Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, p.33.
  18. "NEW SOUTH SEAS FILM". Singleton Argus. NSW: National Library of Australia. 30 January 1933. p. 1. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  19. "THE "BOUNTY" FILM". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 11 February 1933. p. 17. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  20. ""THE BOUNTY" FILM". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 1 March 1933. p. 8. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  21. "FILM CENSORS DEFENDED". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 6 April 1933. p. 14. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  22. "FILM CENSORS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 6 April 1933. p. 13. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  23. "NEW FILMS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 20 March 1933. p. 5. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  24. Vagg, Stephen (2 November 2019). "The Films of Errol Flynn". Filmink.
  25. In the Wake of the Bounty at the National Film and Sound Archive
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