THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) revisited


 Greetings again from the darkness. This film was nominated for seven Academy Awards (no wins), including Best Picture. Watching it today, it seems clear that the courtroom scene with Humphrey Bogart in the chair as Lt. Cmdr. Queeg drove this film to the heights it reached. That few minutes is as powerful as anything Bogart ever did on screen. Unfortunately, he would pass away (esophagal cancer) less than three years later.

The first part of the film is solid enough as we meet newly graduated (mama’s boy) Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis). His first Navy assignment is aboard a minesweeper (junkyard Navy) and the veteran officers quickly note his disappointment at not being stationed on a more prestigious carrier. Those veteran officers are played by quite a list of actors: Van Johnson plays no-nonsense Lt. Steve Maryk, Fred MacMurray plays the cynical wannabe novelist Lt. Tom Keefer, and Tom Tully plays Cmdr. DeVriess, who irritates young Willie with his laid back approach to command. We also see Lee Marvin and Claude Akins as part of the ship’s rag-tag crew.

 A shift occurs once Queeg replaces DeVriess. Queeg brings a tough old school Navy approach to the ship and is easily thrown by the sight of an untucked shirt. Over a short amount of time, the officers begin taking note of the odd behavior of Queeg. MacMurray’s character acts as an armchair psychologist, and more importantly, an instigator for the other officers. He is convinced Queeg is unstable and unfit for duty. The climax occurs during a typhoon and Lt Maryk (Johnson) takes the abrupt step of relieving Queeg of his duties … an action that’s never actually occurred aboard a Naval ship.

Soon Maryk and Willie are brought up on charges of mutiny. At about the 90 minute mark, their attorney makes his first appearance. Jose Ferrer plays Lt. Greenwald, the only naval attorney who would take the case against the highly decorated Commander. Watching Queeg (Bogart) on the stand is just about as good as acting gets. Ferrer is exceptional as well.

 This film is about the character of men and their reactions to situations in which they are trained to act otherwise. It’s based on the Pulitzer Prize winning WWII novel by Herman Wouk, and the screenplay is by Stanley Roberts. The film is directed by Edward Dmytryk, who you may know as one of the “Hollywood Ten”. Dmytryk spent time in prison for his lack of cooperation with HUAC, and his previous involvement with the communist party. The score is outstanding and was composed by the famous Max Steiner, who was also responsible for a couple of other films you may have seen: Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. It should also be noted that this was the second of five total films made by Robert Francis (Ens Willie Keith) and the 25 year old up-and-coming actor was killed in a plane crash the year after this film was made.

*noteEdward Dmytryk retired from filmmaking and for a few years taught film theory at the University of Texas.  I was fortunate enough to be a student in a couple of his classes.  His insight was remarkable.

*note – an aspiring young actor named Maurice Micklewhite was so inspired by the movie and Bogart that he changed his name to … Michael Caine

*note – pay special attention to the number of ticks/quirks that Queeg display (his use of Chinese Baoding Balls for stress, his use “K” as a form of communication, his facial contorts in moments of indecision, etc)

here is the original trailer (the volume level is very low):

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