'The Bounty' bounds along on melodrama and good acting

You can't keep a good mutiny down. For the third time in 50 years, the Bounty is sailing across the silver screen with Captain Bligh at the helm and Fletcher Christian stewing away below decks.

But some things have changed. It's really Lieutenant Bligh this time, and though Christian eventually sparks the mutiny, he and the skipper are good pals when the voyage begins. These are small matters, but they point up the ''historical accuracy'' aimed for by producer Dino De Laurentiis in ''The Bounty ,'' a modestly revisionist look at this trusty sea adventure.

I say the revisionism is modest because, while it nods toward ''what really happened,'' the movie's overall effect is pure hokum in the great tradition of big-screen epics. Only the topless natives in Tahiti remind us that we're not back in the '50s or '40s, when most of the picture's conventions were already old hat. Some critics have complained about murky motivations, foggy plot twists , and sketchy characters. So what's new? Like uncounted Hollywood pictures before it, this is an entertainment, not a history lesson. I'm sure it's truer to the facts than its ''Mutiny on the Bounty'' predecessors in 1935 and 1962 - but what I enjoy is its salty atmosphere and shameless melodramatics, not its high-minded niggling about detail and authenticity.

As for the performances, there's no denying that Charles Laughton will forever be associated with the Bligh role; even people who have never seen the 1935 ''Bounty'' have vague images of his roly-poly swagger and yelps of ''Mistah Christian!'' The later interpretation of Trevor Howard did nothing to displace him, and probably the new portrayal by Anthony Hopkins won't, either. Hopkins puts on a formidable show, though, lending Bligh a newfound sympathy that stretches from the civilized beginnings of the journey to its bedraggled ending on the island of Timor. It's a first-rate feat of character building, even by Hopkins's high standard.

Although the Fletcher Christian part has been handled by heavyweights Clark Gable and Marlon Brando, audiences have fewer preconceptions about it, and Australian actor Mel Gibson has no previous legends to bounce off. He plays the mutineer smoothly, showing no special inspiration but rising to every occasion. If the movie as a whole invited more serious consideration - by analyzing the roots of rebellion, say, or probing the darkness in men's hearts - I would be more critical of Gibson's approach. But under the circumstances, which are no more complex than an average sea chanty, he does fine.

''The Bounty'' was directed by New Zealand filmmaker Roger Donaldson, whose career has rolled upward from the poor ''Sleeping Dogs'' through the mediocre ''Smash Palace'' to the billowing shenanigans on view here. Robert Bolt wrote the screenplay, the mood hovering between the expansiveness of his ''Lawrence of Arabia'' and the plodding sobriety of ''A Man for All Seasons.'' The photography , by Arthur Ibbetson, is just as briny as can be.

'Swing Shift'

It seems nobody's happy with ''Swing Shift,'' the new movie about women who tended the home fires while their menfolk trundled off to fight World War II.

The director, Jonathan Demme, told the New York Times he ''didn't even recognize'' the film as Warner Bros. edited it. Nancy Dowd, who wrote the original screenplay, has removed her name from the credits, using the pseudonym Rob Morton instead. Goldie Hawn, the star, is reportedly disappointed with the project even after the efforts to fix it through rewriting and recutting.

And yet, and yet . . . the movie isn't really so bad! Whoever is responsible for them, the nervous camera movements of the early scenes are just right for the feeling of some great upheaval waiting in the wings. Some later scenes have enough mood, empathy, and emotional detail to recall the sharp eye for Americana shown by Demme in his excellent picture ''Melvin and Howard.'' And even if Goldie Hawn isn't exactly distinguished, the supporting performance by Christine Lahti is excellent, and there's much to praise in the bittersweet portrayals by Ed Ward, as the heroine's husband, and Kurt Russell, as the 4-F trumpeter who has a wartime fling with her.

There are serious flaws in the movie, to be sure, and my guess is that ''Swing Shift'' would have been better if Demme and Dowd had been allowed to follow their own instincts all the way; at least we might have been spared the garbled subplot about a man named Biscuits, who pops in and out of the story with little rhyme and less reason. But the negative publicity floating around the film shouldn't deter viewers who hanker for a nostalgic romance with mostly amiable characters and a lot of swing music on the sound track.


Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi has a commendable concern with outsiders, aliens, people who don't fit in.

His best-known movie, ''The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,'' tells of an oppressed aborigine whose rage erupts into a one-man violent revolution.

Now his first Hollywood picture, ''Iceman,'' goes a step further, with a hero who's not just of a different race than the majority, but of a different time: a 40,000-year-old man plunged into the modern world after his frozen body is discovered and thawed by Arctic researchers.

Since he chooses fascinating subjects to explore, it's too bad Schepisi often fails to get below the surface. Although it has been lavishly praised by some critics, his ''Jimmie Blacksmith'' suffers by not ferreting out the personal and psychological implications of the aborigine's fury, which is seen almost entirely in social and cultural terms. The anger seems abstract, almost arbitrary - which is all right for the film's political message, but weakens its value as a human experience.

Somewhat similarly, ''Iceman'' wants to have a transcendent, almost spiritual dimension, which Schepisi never quite gets across. Much is made of the Neanderthal's unspoiled nature and essential goodness, reflected by his love of humor and song, and by his urge toward cooperation and self-sacrifice. It even turns out he was frozen during a sacrificial trek meant to placate the gods and save his people from starvation; and the end of the film rewards him for this with a mystical twist.

This is good as far as it goes, but as in ''Jimmie Blacksmith,'' the director cares more about showing us things than making us feel. John Lone is strongly convincing as the cave-man character, and there are some affecting scenes as a sympathetic scientist (Timothy Hutton) puts him at ease and draws him out. When the moment comes for a leap clear out of everyday experience, though, Schepisi withdraws to a safe distance - not immersing us in the amazing action, but merely displaying it, in rather drab imagery at that.

''Iceman'' is often engaging and sometimes exciting, but despite its jumpy cross-cutting between the technological and natural worlds, it never crosses into the magical realm it reaches for so earnestly.

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