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Great novels often disappoint when brought to the screen, but superior
acting performances make The Caine Mutiny a classic on its own
The movie takes place on a destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific during World War II. To the consternation of the Caine's crew, a popular captain (Tom Tully) is replaced by a disturbed despot named Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), who finds himself in over his head. As the stresses of command multiply, Queeg's paranoia and cowardice soon become apparent to Lieutenant Thomas Keefer (Fred MacMurray), a writer in civilian life. Keefer continually tries to convince Executive Officer Steve Maryk (Van Johnson) that Queeg is insane, but Keefer won't help Maryk when the Exec asks Keefer to help convince higher authority that Queeg should be relieved. During a typhoon, Queeg's poor seamanship nearly capsizes the Caine; Maryk relieves him by reason of insanity and saves the ship. Maryk and Willie Keith (Robert Francis), Officer of the Deck when Queeg is relieved, stand trial for mutiny. They are reluctantly defended by Lt Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), who must expose Queeg's mental illness to save the defendants. In so doing Greenwald forces the Caine's officers to examine their own motives regarding their roles in Queeg's relief and their lack of loyalty to him.
Bogart is brilliant, giving the greatest performance of his career, his quirky mannerisms and tortured demeanor contrasting starkly with his usual roles. MacMurray is superb as the glib slippery novelist who must eventually deal with his own cowardice, more damning than Queeg's because of his intelligence and insight. Johnson plays Maryk more timidly than he appears in the book, to the detriment of the movie. Ferrer gives a solid performance. Tully excels as the crusty Capt DeVriess, Queeg's predecessor.
The weakest part of Wouk's book is the largely irrelevant romance between Willie Keith and a nightclub singer of whom his wealthy mother disapproves. Unhappily this vapid subplot finds its way into the movie, serving only to reveal Francis and his love interest May Wynn as lousy actors whose mercifully brief cinematic careers were well deserved. Important character developments in the novel could have been included instead of this unnecessary pap.
Despite its flaws, The Caine Mutiny is a must see for serious movie fans. Bogart and MacMurray give performances which remain fresh and compelling with every viewing of the film. You can't ask more from an actor than that.
Historically there were two great United States Naval mutinies. In 1842
a naval sloop, the U.S.S. Somers, had a court martial for three crew
members (one, Midshipman Philip Spencer, was the son of Secretary of
War John Canfield Spencer), which ended with their being found guilty
and hanged. To this day there is debate if Spencer (a troubled youth)
was even serious about seizing the "Somers". The other occurred in 1944
at Port Chicago, California, when, a few weeks after a terrible
accident that killed many men loading ammunition on a boat, their
replacements refused to work under existing unsafe conditions. This led
to a U.S. Supreme Court decision - against the workers, who claimed
they were not under military law.
But the best known mutiny in the American navy is that on the U.S.S. Caine, during the hurricane that preceded the battle of Okinawa. That this is a fictional mutiny does not seem to attract any attention. THE CAINE MUTINY was a successful novel, Broadway play ("THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL") and a great movie. It remains the American equivalent of the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty.
The performances of the leads, Bogart, Johnson, MacMurray (his second of three great heels), Ferrer, Tully, and E.G.Marshall are all first rate, as are the supporting cast (which includes Lee Marvin, Claude Atkins, and Jerry Paris - all of whom had quite substantial careers after this film). Only Robert Francis did not have a substantial career after his fine Ensign Keith - he died in a plane crash in 1955.
There are mental images from the film (mostly connected to Bogart's Queeg) that people remember - even spoof. Every time you see some character showing nervous ticks, if he or she pulls out a pair of small metal balls and roll them in their hand, it is a salute to Bogie's originally doing it in THE CAINE MUTINY. And his magnificent moment of success: "the strawberries", and how he proved the theft with geometric precision, remains a signal that the person speaking has too many fixations.
Interestingly, the film makes Queeg better (if still sick) than the play does. When cross examined by Greenwald at the court martial of Maryk and Keith, Queeg is asked about whether or not he overused his right to free transport of liquor and other items from Hawaii to the mainland from the navy. Queeg at first denies it, but when Greenwald says he can bring in (as witnesses) people connected with the sale of the items and the transport of them, Queeg suddenly remembers that he might have. This is not in the film, but it shows that Queeg was not all that clean an officer.
That aside, the impact of the film is still terrific half a century after it was shot. It illustrates that personality flaws frequently causes the problems that affect all of us, and that we need more understanding of each other's problems to avoid the bigger ones. From a case of over-extended battle fatigue, the crew of a warship are driven to accept an act of mutiny against it's captain in an emergency situation. And it almost gets two officers disgraced or hanged.
The Caine Mutiny works well on so many levels. It is a great insight into navy life, a first rate legal drama, and an unforgettable character study. Jose Ferrer and Fred MacMurray are superb, and indeed so is the entire cast, but the film clearly belongs to Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg. It's a real treat to see 'Bogie' in a film where he isn't a gangster or a romantic with a gruff exterior. Bogart spectacularly conveys the sheer complexity of his character: the quirks, the devotion to duty, the demand for perfection, the refusal to accept his own fallibility. It is a truly exceptional performance. Strongly recommended, 9/10.
Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) was simply a man who had seen too much of war
With the excitable tendency of rolling a pair of steel balls in his
hand, he censures the error of incorrectness on everything but himself
falling as an easy victim to the intrigues of self-serving officers who
felt that their panicked captain is mentally not suitable to command
A subplot, seeming to lack common sense, between two young lovers (Robert Francis and May Wynn) only served to lessen the concentration and distract our attention from the real story Also, at the court-martial, a long trial sequence, was clearly anticlimactic, though it included the film's most tense and unforgettable scene, that of Queeg disintegrating as he pronounced his statement
But we had noticed it all before, after all, aboard the Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Caine We had seen Queeg as a strict disciplinarian and a compulsive, unstable commander, earning, in his limited imagination, the total disregard of both officers and crew So we knew what would occur when he got on the witness stand
"The Caine Mutiny" is a splendid character study, a tale of bravery and cowardice at odds with one another The film received seven Academy Award nominations included one to Humphrey Bogart who delivered a terrific performance
Humphrey Bogart received an Oscar nomination for 'The Caine Mutiny' as the eccentric Captain Queeg who finally collapses under pressure. The story leading up to his downfall is an engrossing one--and more complex than any surface description can convey. That's what makes this such a fascinating movie. Nothing is what it seems. No character is painted in black or white strokes--but beneath the surface lies deception, especially in Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray). Usually a lightweight actor, MacMurray delivers one of the film's craftiest performances. So does Van Johnson as the decent executive officer who takes over the controls when Queeg snaps. As many have pointed out, the only true weakness of the film is the attention given to a budding romance between Robert Francis and May Wynn which does nothing to advance the plot. The complex drama ends with a stunning courtroom scene in which Jose Ferrer gets a chance to do some heavy emoting. Max Steiner's score includes a jaunty, catchy main theme but is otherwise not one of his most interesting scores. An excellent film that makes you think how things might have been if--if only...but then there would have been no story. All in all, quite an achievement, well worth your time. The book by Herman Wouk was worth reading too.
Director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Stanlet Roberts, adapting Herman Wouk's novel, certainly didn't set out to make an anti-Navy movie concerning a junkyard Naval ship beset with a paranoid captain, and indeed their "simple" dedication at the end is to the entire United States Navy, yet the plot mechanisms are slanted in that direction even if the handling is not. Beginning the picture with a green "Princeton tiger" and Naval Academy grad attempting to woo a band singer before duty calls was a safe, stolid move, yet Wouk's story manages to cut much wider and deeper than the Hollywood generalities, and once his plot gets cooking the film is vastly entertaining. Humphrey Bogart is the new by-the-books captain aboard a Naval bottom-feeder, quickly driving his crew and his vessel into the ground with his idiosyncratic behavior. Dymtryk is careful while introducing all the different personalities aboard ship, and he doesn't want us to miss a trick, yet in the film's final stages (after the court martial, when defense attorney José Ferrer has his say), the tone of the picture does an about-face and hopes to show us all sides of the situation. The filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it too, and the resulting epilogue goes down like bad medicine. Still, the performances are first-rate, particularly by Bogart and, in perhaps his finest acting turn, Van Johnson. *** from ****
In what would be one of Humphrey Bogart's last motion pictures before
his death in 1957, one of the most sterling actors of all time gives a
poignant and most memorable performance as a lonely, broken commander
of a naval mine-sweeping ship who desperately seeks the acceptance and
loyalty of his otherwise uncaring, subordinate officers.
The perpetrator of this treachery is the Communications Officer, Lt Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray). A cynical know-it-all who actually knows nothing, he plots a course of deception and cowardice to convince Captain Queeg's first officer, Lt Steve Maryk (Van Johnson) to believe that the Captain is unstable and that he (Maryk) should step in and "relieve" the Captain of his duties. The first officer tells Lt Keefer in no uncertain terms that he will not be a party to his suggestions, but only after several unsavory incidents from the Captain, does he take Lt Keefers suggestions to heart.
Meanwhile, Ensign Willis Keith (Robert Francis), a Princeton graduate is emotionally involved not only with the affairs on ship, but with a pretty night club singer, May Wynn (her name in real life). Through out the movie, at least where "Willie" is concerned, its a see-saw scenario between military protocol and romance. Add to this the obsessive, compulsive nature of Willie's mother and things become very interesting.
This motion picture differs in most in the fact that it has two climaxes which work together. The typhoon and the court martial. These two integral elements help explain the other parts of the movie.
Based on the novel by Herman Wouk and directed by Edward Dmytryk (Till The End Of Time, The Young Lions) The Caine Mutiny bridges the gap between staunch patriotism and heart felt emotion. It is by far Humphrey Bogart's last tribute to the motion picture industry and everyone who loved him.
(Special note: Almost everyone, as of this writing, who appeared in this motion picture has passed away except for Van Johnson, who will turn 89 late this summer. Robert Francis who played Willis Keith, died in a plane crash not long after this film was made).
My memories of this film are formed from a long time ago. I was about 10 or eleven when I first saw this film and my impressions of it have never changed from that day to this. In my opinion it is probably one of the best films ever made. From the opening sequence to the last frame , it is a gripping tale of how humans react when under intense pressure and when lives are a stake. I feel that Humphrey Bogart's performance underlines the ongoing brilliance of this incredible actor, he plays this part to perfection. It is worth noting that compared to modern movies of the same genre, it is hard to find a performance that stands up to Bogart's skill in this role. I actually preferred this role to his generally acknowledged high in Casablanca! I cannot leave this short review without mentioning Jose Ferrer's supporting role as the Naval Defense lawyer. Quite simply it was and remains masterful - a consummate performance! I highly recommend this movie and would expect that it is in the top 100 movies ever made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having served in the U.S. Navy for 32 years, I can accurately state that many of the characters and situations depicted in Wouk's book and in the film are all very real.... from the fresh faced Ensign Keith assuming the outboard ship was the Caine, to getting blown off his feet by the shocking sound of a steam whistle, to the SNAFU of attempting to stream sweeping gear, to Queeq's introductory monologue in the wardroom, and thousands of other details. To those of you who assume that men of the likes of Queeg, Maryk, Keefer, Keith, DeVries and others just couldn't exist in the USN, you need to enlist, go to sea, and experience the smell of cabbages and stack gas for yourself. Or take my word for it!
When I was a Seaman at Memphis in the 1970's, I was doing night duty at the
Enlisted Men's Club, the sailors watched only two movies: "The Caine
Mutiny" and "Mr. Roberts." They would rather watch those two movies on
television than drink or listen to music.
"The Caine Mutiny" is one of the best ensemble movies ever made; also, it is the last great war movie. Back in the studio days in Hollywood, you could afford to have many top leading actors in one movie. All the actors gave great performances in this movie, but the actors Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Tom Tully, and Robert Francis gave their best performances.
Humphrey Bogart gave a performance that was totally unlike himself. Most of his performances were part of his colorful personality. In "The Caine Mutiny", he was nothing like the paranoid Navy captain. Fred MacMurray plays another great heel, and Jose Ferrer plays another heroic, dashing guy.
The Academy Awards should have an award for best ensemble acting. "The Caine Mutiny" would have won that award hands down!
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