Preparations for filming took 15 months. The length of time it took to make the film, unusually long at the time, was due in part to the unwillingness of the US Navy to endorse the film. Without the Navy's endorsement, it would have been impossible for the filmmakers to use naval equipment and personnel. The Navy was concerned that the film's subject dealt with a mutiny, and that audience would feel that it was a true story. But the filmmakers reached a compromise upon agreeing to include the comment in the opening titles that there has never been a mutiny on a US Navy vessel.
There was considerable opposition to the casting of Humphrey Bogart, since he was much older than Captain Queeg was supposed to be. In addition, Bogart was already seriously ill with espohagal cancer, although it would not be diagnosed until January 1956.
The scars on Van Johnson's face in this film are real, not makeup. While filming A Guy Named Joe (1943), Johnson was in an automobile accident and thrown through the car's windshield. The plastic surgery of the day could not totally remove his scars. In all his later films he wore heavy makeup to hide them but felt that, in this film, they added to his character's appearance.
Humphrey Bogart's tour-de-force performance in the climactic courtroom scene was so powerful that it completely captivated the onlooking film technicians and crewmen. After the scene's completion, the company gave Bogart a round of thunderous applause.
Producer Stanley Kramer and director Edward Dmytryk cast Lee Marvin as one of the USS Caine's supporting sailors, not only for his knowledge of ships at sea--he had served in the US Marine Corps during World War II--but for his acting talent. Throughout the production, Marvin served as an unofficial technical advisor to the filmmakers. Sometimes a shot would be set up, only to be criticized by Marvin as being inauthentic.
Captain Queeg's portrayal parallels that of the captain of the USS Hull, one of three destroyers lost during Typhoon Cobra--also called "Halsey's Typhoon," because it struck US Navy Task Force 38, commanded by Adm. William F. Halsey. Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Marks was a veteran of Atlantic convoys, but as commander of the Hull he alienated the crew shortly after he took command by doing such things as forbidding social conversations between officers and enlisted men and canceling shore leave for minor infractions. While there was no mutiny on the Hull, Marks was found by a court of inquiry to have been too inexperienced in command to properly tend to his ship's safety. Three ships were actually sunk during the typhoon--the destroyers Spence, Hull and Monaghan. The storm and its impact is well described in "Halsey's Typhoon" by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.
Columbia Pictures was determined to hire Humphrey Bogart for the top role of Capt. Queeg, and Bogart was enthusiastic about playing it, but the Columbia brass did not want to pay him his top salary. Bogart was rather miffed at this, complaining to wife Lauren Bacall, "This never happens to Gary Cooper, or Cary Grant or Clark Gable, but always to me." Bogart correctly figured that Harry Cohn and company knew that Bogart wanted to play the part so fervently that he would agree to take less money rather than surrender the part to someone else.
When Ens. Willis Seward Keith went away with May to Yosemite, they witnessed the famous Fire Fall. At 9:00 each evening in Camp Curry, the crowd which had gathered for the nightly campfire program, would fall silent. A man would call out to the top of Glacier Point "Let the Fire Fall!", and a faint reply could be heard from the top of the mountain. Then a great bonfire of red fir bark would be pushed evenly over the edge of the cliff, appearing to the onlookers below as a glowing waterfall of sparks and fire. In 1968 the Park Service Director decided that the Firefall tradition should come to an end. He reasoned that since it was just a man-made attraction, and one which caused a great deal of congestion in the park, as well as damage to the meadows from the trampling of onlookers, that it wasn't worth continuing. He went as far as to point out that it caused the unnatural and unnecessary removal of red-fir bark from the park grounds. Twenty odd years ago, as a Yosemite Association Volunteer, when visitors asked about film footage of the fire fall, they were directed to this movie as the best available.
When Humphrey Bogart broke bread into small pieces to symbolize the deteriorating state of Queeg's mental condition, a military advisor on the set told him that no naval officer would eat bread that way.
The USS Caine was played by the Navy destroyer-minesweeper USS Thompson (DD-627/DMS-38) named in honor of Robert M Thompson. DD-627 provided close-in gun fire support on D-Day. DMS-38 served in the Korean War and was decommissioned a year after her role in this movie.
Despite the accolades and impressive box-office receipts, director Edward Dmytryk felt that the film could have been even better. In "Stanley Kramer: Filmmaker" by Donald Spoto, Dmytryk said, "...it's a disappointment in my career, to tell the truth. I insist it could have been a classic ... but Kramer, who (with Dore Schary) is the most publicity-conscious man in the industry, got high-handed with Harry Cohn, and in fact had to toe the line ... Stanley Roberts' original script was about 190 pages, even without the romantic subplot ... It should have remained that - a three and one-half or four-hour picture - and it would have been more logically developed, the characters would have been further fleshed out. It would have been perfect."
After their first briefing with Lt. Cmdr. Queeg, Willie Keith remarks that "He certainly is Navy," to which Keefer replies "So was Cpt. Bligh." This is a reference to the Captain of the Royal Navy ship the Bounty, whose crew mutinied against him. In the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Bligh was played by Charles Laughton, who in 1954 also directed The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on stage.
An October 1952 New York Times item revealed that there were two scripts prepared for Stanley Kramer, one that included "Willie" and "May's" romance and another, shorter version that only included action on the Caine and the court-martial.
This marked a spectacular comeback for director Edward Dmytryk, formerly one of the "Hollywood Ten" who had been jailed for contempt of Congress and for lying under oath while being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee because of his former membership in the American Communist party. Such was the effectiveness of the film that Dmytryk even received a DGA nomination.
Director Edward Dmytryk noted in his autobiography that Herman Wouk's initial contribution to the script was "a disaster" and that Stanley Roberts then took over the rewrite; Wouk is only credited on screen as the author of the novel on which the film is based. Dmytryk also stated that he was unaware of studio head Harry Cohn's strict insistence that Columbia films run no longer than 2 hours and indicated that Roberts quit over the stipulated cuts required to bring the screenplay down to fit the time requirement. The final screenplay was trimmed by nearly fifty pages by writer Michael Blankfort, who is credited on screen with "additional dialog."
The following is engraved on a plaque in the officers' wardroom. The lines on the plaque are centered: U.S.S. CAINE DMS 18 / This ship is named for / Arthur Wingate Caine / Commander U.S. Navy / who died of wounds received / in running gun battle / between submarine and / vessel he commanded, / U.S.S. Jones. / The submarine was sunk in / the engagement.
Most of the Hollywood studios wouldn't touch Herman Wouk's best-seller because they knew that the only way they could make the film would be with the full cooperation of the Department of Defense, which would insist on making sweeping changes to the film (the DOD was openly critical of Wouk's depiction of the Navy). Undeterred, independent producer Stanley Kramer optioned the novel for $60,000. Once the novel won the Pulitzer Prize, the DOD had to soften its attitude towards the novel, given its huge popularity. It eventually approved Kramer's submitted screenplay treatment in 1952.
In the novel the Caine is a World War I vintage "flush deck" destroyer with 4 smokestacks. Since ships of this type were very scarce after World War II, the producers used a more modern World War II vintage ship with two smokestacks. When Ensign Keith is first being transported to the Caine, the Caine is docked in-bound of another double-stacker destroyer, but a wide shot makes it appear like it's just one four-stacker ship docked, thus providing a brief reference to the novel's Caine.
In the climactic scene when Queeg is in the witness chair, two scars can be clearly seen on Bogart' s upper lip. He got them when, as a sailor in WWI, he was attacked by a prisoner he was escorting from the Norfolk Navy base hit him with handcuffs.
One of the naval officers who advised the filmmakers on technical aspects held a bitter grudge against one of his former commanding officers, whom he described as a "Captain Queeg." The officer asserted that the novel "should be required reading for every man and officer in the United States Navy."
The film opens with the epigraph that states that there has never been a mutiny in the United States Navy. The Navy insisted on the epigraph in exchange for the production's use of Pearl Harbor, planes, aircraft carriers, destroyers, combat boats, and the port in San Francisco. In fact, this was the only film made with the complete cooperation of the Navy for which they didn't want credit, only the opening disclaimer. The agreement was the result of heavy pre-production cajoling between the producers and the U.S. Navy. At first, the Navy was cool to the idea of lending support to the film. Rear Admiral Robert Hickey, information chief of the Navy, wrote to the producers: "I believe your production would plant in the minds of millions the idea that life in the Navy is akin to confinement in a psychiatric institution." The Navy suggested several changes to the script, including a change of title to "The Caine Incident." In the end, the Navy's suggested changes were kept to a minimum and the final script was approved for shooting.
This movie's opening prologue states: "There has never been a mutiny in a ship of the United States Navy. The truths of this film lie not in its incidents but in the way a few men meet the crisis of their lives. The time - World War II . . . "
The film was made under tight restrictions from Harry Cohn, who demanded that the final cut not exceed two hours in running time and a $2 million budget. If the running time or the budget ran over, ultimate control of the production would fall into Cohn's tyrannical hands. The reason why Cohn insisted on the two hours maximum running time was purely financial; if it was no more than 120 minutes in length theatres could squeeze in an extra showing of the film per day.
To capture the excitement of the typhoon scene, the filmmakers originally intended to steer the ship (a replica of the USS Caine) into an actual gale for the bad-weather footage. It was eventually decided that the typhoon would be artificially created in a studio by special effects technician Lawrence W. Butler.
Because the public was so familiar with the The Caine Mutiny from the book and the play, anticipation for the Hollywood adaptation ran high. National magazines ran several stories on the film's production and imminent release. Publications from Variety to The Christian Science Monitor were publishing features and interviews before the New York premiere, detailing the making of the film and the anticipated response from audiences around the country.
What can appear to some viewers as a typographic error with the teletype orders to steam within 1000 yards "of" the beach is grammatically correct, but when seen in all capital letters, could be mistaken as "off" spelled incorrectly.