Entertaing low-budget sea yarn
Steven Hellerstedt | 01/30/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Mutiny, n. Revolt or rebellion against constituted authority, esp. by sailors against their officers.
Well, that's what MUTINY is about, alright. The War of 1812 has broken out, the British are at the gates of Washington (with their torches) and Captain James Marshall is ordered to run a blockade or two and collect a vitally needed ten millions in gold from the French to aid the war effort. Marshall (Mark Stevens) recruits the out-of-favor Ben Waldridge (Patric Knowles) to act as his first mate. Waldridge is a brilliant commander but a little light of fingers when it comes to other people's money, and was expelled by the British Navy for embezzlement. Anyway, per custom, Waldridge is allowed to pick his own crew, a scabrous host of blackguards and cutthroats whose patriotism lags far behind their lust for, in rough order, grog, gold and girls. The girl is Leslie (Angela Lansbury,) a delicate beauty who is not only Waldridge's distant and unforgettable love (the one article of gear he takes on the mission is her framed portrait,) but, in a happy coincidence, is also living in the same French district where the gold is to be collected. Marshall's plan is to collect the gold as quickly as possible and use it to help defend his country. Waldridge's plan is to take advantage of Marshall's naïve and misplaced trust in him and, once the gold and the girl are aboard ship, rally his men to mutiny.
MUTINY isn't a great movie and the dvd-transfer is awful and nearly impossible to watch. It was produced by the b-movie studio King Brothers Productions and, although the ocean scenes are pretty well done, the movie claustrophobically confines itself to a very few sets. And the Stevens character - the good captain - is a little too good to work as a foil for the true star of this film, the conflicted and miserable, in spirit and action, Ben Waldridge. Stevens plays his character as written, the way they used to write FBI agents back then - strait-laced, buttoned-up, and bland as porridge.
Which brings us to director Edward Dmytryk and why some will find MUTINY more than just a ripping sea yarn. Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood 10, "Communist subversives" (note the quotation marks) rounded up by HUAC in a multi-pronged effort to clean up Hollywood. Dmytryk testified before HUAC, spent time in jail for his Communist activities, then later testified - named names - before HUAC. That testimony occurred in 1951. MUTINY (1952) was the first film he made after that testimony was given, and if Dmytryk's memoirs are to be believed, his disgust with and distrust of Communist agents in America was strong. The Communists, I believe Dmytryk believed, had tried to overthrow the constituted authority of the US government. In that context MUTINY acquires another dimension (probably explains why one of the main mutineers is named Redlegs, too, come to think of it), and, if I haven't stretched it too far already, Dmytryk saw a lot of himself in the disgraced, but basically decent, Captain Waldridge.
Although MUTINY is a low-budget action film, the penurious King Brothers had an eye for talent and made some good movies - Dillinger, Gun Crazy - along the way. Besides Dmytryk, the film was scored by Dimitri Tiomkin and photographed by Ernest Laszlo, both Academy Award winners. The dvd-transfer wastes most of it - the images are dark and muddy, the sound could have been cleaned up. Still, if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned sea adventure, this one shouldn't disappoint.