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This was an good adaptation of the Caine story. I've read the original
book on which the story was based, and have seen the 1950s film version
many times, but hadn't seen a stage version of this film. (Wouk wrote
both the book and this play.) This version is interesting on several
levels. First, unlike the original story, everything is stripped out
except the courtroom scenes and the party afterward. This allows us to
experience the story without having seen it first, which allows us to
view the Queeg story fresh, without having seen it ourselves and formed
opinions about it.
Also, Altman wisely chose actors which were very unlike (in most cases) the 1954 version of the story. The most noteworth, of course, is Queeg himself, with Davis doing a very credible job that is very different from the Bogart portrayal. (For one thing, Davis is a very different physical type than Bogart and is a lot younger.) Keefer is good too - and again, different than the 1954 version, with Fred McMurray in the role.
And, of course, this film has the usual Altman technique of using a lot of side conversations that are barely heard and added noises to make the film seem more naturalistic. As others noted, this is most evident during the party scene at the end, but it used with good effect during the rest of the movie too.
Overall a nice piece of work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I cannot improve on some of the fine comments by other users, so let me
instead argue why this play for TV complements the film and the novel.
(I refer to the 1954 feature film as the film and this 1988 teleplay as
the play.) The play has virtues and the film has virtues and the
virtues of each deepen the novel. If asked to choose, I refuse to do
so. The novel plus the film plus this play make the story richer.
Eric Bogosian's defense attorney sustains guilt and ambivalence throughout the play, while Jose Ferrer's defender is a sardonic commentator until he shocks the victory party by explaining the moral of the story. Bogosian's Greenwald is darker and far less stentorian; Ferrer's polished drunk is more eloquent and less rowdy. A little eloquence and a little rawness together make for a cinematic cocktail that brings out the taste of the novel.
Jeff Daniels' defendant is far less motivated than was Van Johnson's in the film because the film dramatizes the events leading to the courtmartial while the play covers the courtmartial and the party only. Still, Daniels conveys a defendant who, once again, must decide whether an authority (his lawyer) knows what he is doing or is erratic and unreliable. Van Johnson's defendant is more about deciding what to do then learning after his acquittal that he did the wrong thing.
Each "author" of the Caine mutiny is a plausible bad guy who lends slightly different emphases to instigators who escape blame for what they goad others into doing.
Bogart's Queeg is far better at hiding his weirdness and flaws, which accentuates Wouk's lesson that Queeg, with truly loyal subordinates, might not have melted down. Davis's Queeg raises the intriguing possibility that an officer might be flat-out nutty in a way difficult for psychiatrists to detect but easy for an attorney to expose. I find Bogart's subtler characterization more interesting, but Brad Davis is terrific.
I agree that the caricature of the psychiatrist is hokey. I never thought that I should write that Whit Bissell was a superior performer, but that's the case.
Finally, the play has no hokey romance cluttering up the narrative. That makes the play better for me but perhaps less varied for others.
The television movie version of THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL is a
nice production by Robert Altman. It lacks the briny spirit of the film
- so much of which was shot on ships or at sea (including a typhoon
sequence). But it is taught and claustrophobic for most of the story -
it being set in the Court-Martial room (a bit of the end of the play is
at the post-trial acquittal party). The results is a different telling
of the story, and one relying on the audience's own evaluation of the
truth or lies of the different witnesses. While it still ends in the
revelation of Queeg's (Brad Davis's) behavior on the stand, there is
more that comes out.
I've mentioned this when reviewing the movie. Queeg is first taken down a peg by Greenwald (Eric Bogosian) not on issues of fitness of command, but on his honesty. It turns out that Queeg (like other commanders of the naval ships) were allowed a certain level of tax free purchases from Hawaii to the mainland of various luxury items, such as alcohol. Queeg had overused this right - actually exceeded the legal limit, and was chastised for this by the Pearl Harbor command. Queeg denies this happened, but Greenwald explains that he can ask for an hour's delay to get the necessary officers to come and testify if necessary. So Queeg suddenly "remembers" there was some kind of chastisement. It is the first misstep the Captain makes in his testimony.
Greenwald also faces secret hostility (not shown in the film, by the way) as a Jewish officer. There is an undercurrent working against Greenwald and his clients in the anti-Semitism of the Navy brass, especially the prosecutor. At the end of the trial, aware that Greenwald has destroyed what should have been an open-and-shut case of mutiny, the prosecutor actually reveals his anti-Semitic feelings about the "tricks" used by Greenwald.
The other major change is at the conclusion. In the film, a drunken Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) confronts Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) at the celebration party as the real manipulator of the Caine Mutiny, who kept himself clean at the expense of Maryk and Keith), and after tossing a drink into his face and saying if he wants to make anything of it to come outside. Greenwald also tells off the crew officers present that they failed to give Queeg the support he asked for at one point - that Queeg for all his flaws was defending the country while they were nice and safe. The stunned men leave the party one by one, leaving a disgraced Keefer all alone.
In the play, Greenwald does show up, and does tell off Keefer and the crew's officers, but all the officers (except Keefer, who is disgraced), are already drunk, and they don't listen to what Greenwald is saying. Not even Maryk and Keith (Jeff Daniels and Daniel Jenkins) - who are too busy celebrating to care. It is an interesting difference from the movie's conclusion. Nice production, with a different style and angle to the story.
Excellent dramatic rendition of the final segment of Wouk's great novel. All the players made this picture come off looking like a real court marshall. Davis' portrayal of the oddball Queeg showed a man with a skewed personality and totally obsessed with an authority complex. Finally, Bogosian's Barney Greenwald's rant at the celebration party was the high point of the film. Courtroom enthusiasts should go for this one.
Robert Altman's simple and brilliant reprise of the celebrated fictional
naval trial succeeds both as a series of character studies, and, more
effectively than the Bogart film, as a rebuke of the sprawling
novels (such as the Naked and the Dead) that followed World War II. Unlike
the 1954 movie, this version is based on Herman Wouk's stage play and
focuses exclusively on the trial itself. As events focus on the
of witnesses in the temporary courtroom (it's a converted gym), each man
scrutinized under a microscope which reveals strengths, weaknesses,
hypocrisy and anguish.
Facing the thankless task of following in Bogart's wake, Brad Davis gives an edgy performance as Qeeg, a ticky personality that slowly melts and becomes unglued in the witness chair. Eric Bogosian is just as watchable as Lt Greenwald, the razor-sharp defense lawyer who is torn as the issues of the trial tear into his own changing moral attitudes about the war. A cynical intellectual when he entered the Marines as a flyer, Greenwald now sees the pragmatic need for a structured military to defeat the evils of fascism (particularly as a Jewish American). To win the trial, he must destroy the life of a career officer and he's sick about it.
Jeff Daniels, Peter Gallagher and the rest of the cast are all top drawer. The 1988 TV Movie version is also able to briefly touch on issues of anti-Semitism and homosexuality that were expunged in the 50s big-screen version. The Caine Mutiny Court Martial offers that all-too-rare treat of allowing Hollywood stars to get into some meaty characters and performances which are normally reserved for the stage. Offered with Altman's trademark overlapping dialogue, it's great drama, an under-appreciated gem, and is well worth 100 minutes of your time.
All of the comments before this one are perfectly true in saying this is a great film, even more so considering it was made for TV. Having read The Caine Mutiny and having seen the movie numerous times I already knew many of the incidents referred to in the courtmartial dialog. I wondered how good a film it would be to someone totally unfamiliar with the Bogart film and the book. Queeg was a stinker but I still felt sorry for the SOB. Now in REAL life, Maryk would have been found guilty no matter how loony his CO was.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Considering they're reviving The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on
Broadway, I thought I'd revisit the truly great 1988 TV-Movie with a
review of my own.
I remember when this film was broadcast. This was at a time when the major networks knew how to make made-for-television films. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which played on CBS, placed last opposite NBC's science fiction thriller Something Is Out There and ABC's The Bourne Identity with Richard Chamberlain. But it wasn't just last...practically NOBODY saw it! A shame, because it was easily the best of the three films (although Bourne was pretty good).
Caine was directed by the legendary Robert Altman, who has always been a friend to his actors...allowing them a lot of freedom to perform. Because of the source material (the Herman Wouk novel and play), his actors are a little more confined, yet Altman still manages to take advantage of amazing performances. Setting the courtroom inside a gymnasium is a stroke of genius. I'm not sure why they would set up court there, but being in the military myself, I know it's not unusual to make the best of an unusual situation...thus, it wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary for a military court to utilize another facility under certain circumstances. Anyway, Altman sets the stage within the gym in a way that allows us to get the most out of the performances. It's hard to describe, but when you see it, you'll understand...especially they way we are able to view characters in the background as another character is testifying.
Of course, the best thing about film (besides Wouk's words) is the actors' performances. Eric Bogosian, Jeff Daniels, Peter Gallagher, Michael Murphy, Kevin J. O'Connor and Brad Davis are all first rate. Bogosian is a dominant force as the defense attorney. Jeff Daniels absolutely personifies the accused. Gallagher makes a razor sharp prosecutor. Judging the proceedings is the very fine Murphy. And O'Connor has to convey a slime-ball without being overtly so...he excels.
Finally, there's Davis. It's easy to see why people keep comparing his performance to Bogart. Bogart was a legend and his performance received a lot of attention. But I'm not really a slave to the original film. In the original film, much of the suspense and intrigue of the story is undercut by the rather weak central character and his point-of-view. That is fine for the book, but a film needs to be more focused.
That's where The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial comes in, it's taut suspenseful and intense. Brad Davis exemplifies those aspects with his VERY intense performance. Bogart was wonderful as the unstable commander of the Caine, Philip Francis Queeg. But his Queeg is kind of a pathetic character...more subdued. It's a nice take on the character but it's not the only way Queeg can be portrayed. In fact, he's much more intense, even hyper in the original novel. And that's the way Davis portrays Queeg in Court-Martial. Davis' captain is energetic from the start, jumping at the chance to defend his actions on the Caine and attacking his enemies. But there's much more to Queeg. I couldn't take my eyes off of Davis. He's filled with such intensity, he's like a rocket ship ready to take off at any moment...a bomb ready to explode. And I LOVE it! Word was Brad Davis was Alman's personal choice to play Queeg when the network's original choice Keith Carradine had other commitments. Carradine would have been great, but I see him delivering a Bogart-like Queeg. I thank Altman for casting Davis because he's given us a much different, but no less effective Captain Queeg!
Bringing Herman Wouk's intense drama to the screen...with such an incredible cast...expertly directed by Robert Altman. It's no wonder this is one of my favorite TV-Movies of all time!
I went into this movie for one reason only--I'm a huge Peter Gallagher fan. That aside, it took some time for me, a non-military civilian to get past the military language and settle down for a remarkable movie about a navy court martial. The characters are brilliant, and the direction (by the always wonderful Robert Altman) was superb. The story is interesting to males and females, for different reasons I suppose. I found this movie much more interesting than a recent court martial movie, Rules of Engagement, which seemed to glorify in it's large budget and bloody special effects. The Caine Mutiny Court Martial is a simple film, shot in only 2 settings, but gives you a satisfaction and also a disturbing feel after the film is over. I highly recommend it.
Overall, this is an entertaining, if not instructive, rendition of what Wouk got onto paper. It's well worth watching for everyone who loved Wouk's novel. The richness of what he wrote has led us to the world of private imagination, and films can seldom satisfy the complexity here. The problem seems to be miscasting in several directions. One is expecting a little more gray and perhaps a bit more subtlety in Davis's performance of the paranoid Queeg; this constant rolling of steel balls is probably overdone. That is to say, perhaps, there is only one Bogart, but there is a certain plausibility missing here. Bogosian makes a capable Greenwald, but once more, there is no solid grounding here of a wounded flier -- and so we also have a puny Keifer and a Maryk without the hue of seamanship. The callow Willie, however, fits the bill, as does Ken Michels as Dr. Bird, the smug psychiatrist. That, we found entertaining. We agree with the first reviewer that the director stepped on some lines with background noise, and we'll never understand why Greenwald had to fight to be heard at the party. In addition, everyone seems about the same age in this movie, like a fraternity costume party. Wouk's work has much to tell us about our own times. We'd like to see someone do this again, with a deeper commitment than what Robert Altman has provided.
We have a phrase in England, a 'curate's egg', which means, good in
On the positive side, this is very much a Robert Altman film in the best sense, He displayed again here to best advantage how he can create not just one backstory but a whole world of backstories just in a converted naval gym which is serving as ad hoc courtroom for a court martial. There were the stories of the principal characters, to be sure, to be given time and attention in the script - the Caine officers, crew, judges and advocates - but what Altman did even better I think than in his other films was make each person on screen, even in the background, and I stress every person you can see either in background or foreground, appear existentially real and three dimensional. They all appear more than just either a principal actor or an extra, as we know them variously to be as members of a cast, but in Altman's subtly shifting focus on screen, in what they are shown doing, even if we can't hear what they are saying or not quite sure what they are doing, they come across as real people, mostly naval personnel, of course, with real activities and real lives taking place simultaneously with the people and events staging in the foreground. I am not sure that any other director ever has managed that as well as Altman.
Focussing on the trial itself, the script is highly literate and gives a fascinating insight into naval protocol, attitudes and tradition, and, of course, into the conflict of personalities and within personalities, of men at war, with the advantage of the extra detail that such focusing allowed, in comparison with the 1954 Edward Dmytryk original film which had to cover both the actual naval action and the court room drama. Though, I want to say here, that the Edward Dmytryk film managed to portray with admirable faithfulness and admirable economy a long book, and with first class acting and production values of its own.
On the negative side, and it is no reflection on Brad Davis, but I have seen the film with Humphrey Bogart and also the stage play in London with Charlton Heston and none of them quite manages right the moment when Captain Queeg starts slipping from a reasonable officer, if something of a martinet, into one who, it turns out, has been over-promoted, probably because of the exigencies of war, to the point where he presents clear symptoms of mental disintegration. That is maybe a weakness of the writing in what is otherwise a very fine war drama by Herman Wouk which perhaps no actor can overcome.
I do miss the drama of the actual scenes aboard ship. As I say, the original film managed to portray the gripping action of the sea drama and then with well-judged economy the trial and compressed it successfully into about the same length of time as Altman's film concentrating almost solely on the trial. Also, the final party scene is far better handled in the 1954 film with the confrontation between the defending advocate, played by Jose Ferrer, and Fred MacMurray as the barrack room lawyer Keefer striking a far more dramatic note. After an otherwise taut film, Altman's ends on rather a flat note.
However, I am glad of this new adaptation of the Caine Mutiny, because it is fascinating to compare the two films which nicely complement each other. I think Herman Wouk's Caine Mutiny is one of the best ever World War II stories ever written and subsequently screened, not just for its action but its psychological subtlety and depth. Sadly, his Winds of War is a let-down but that is matter for another review.
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