The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (TV Movie 1988) Poster

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The Caine gets the Altman treatment
hankhanks123459 October 2005
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.
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Complements Feature Film Nicely
WildBill-1529 July 2006
Warning: 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.
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An Interesting Variant on the story
theowinthrop23 October 2005
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.
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Queeg wasn't fit to stand alongside Skipper Jonas Grumby
helpless_dancer25 June 2002
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.
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Altman at his best
Walt-4230 January 2002
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 anti-military 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 progression of witnesses in the temporary courtroom (it's a converted gym), each man is 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.
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Better than Bogart? Yes.
cousin_chuck29 July 2002
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.
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Just Brilliant!
griffic-217 April 2006
Warning: 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!
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faithfully prosaic
meabrams24 January 2006
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.
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Good drama, but with one fatal flaw
policy13431 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very good restaging of the more famous movie The Caine Mutiny. As it is set almost entirely at the court martial room, things tend to get a little overly dramatic at times.

Here is the fatal flaw. Never mind that it is rather annoying to have overlapping dialogue playing through the less important verbal exchanges (it is!), but the last testimony with Queeg in the chair, suffers from the all too familiar, but nevertheless quite obvious flaw of having a character, who practically blows the whole mystery of how a story is going to end. I am talking about the Michael Murphy character who gets reaction shots to practically everyones testimony. Why does he have to look so disturbed? There is no way in hell that you can't guess what is going to happen, even if you didn't see the 1954 film or read the novel. He looks way too concerned, even schocked at hearing the last testimony of Queeg. How can the court not acquit Maryk after you seen those concerned looks?

One little side note, once again. I'll bet if this had been a real court martial, Maryk would have been found guilty, maybe not of mutiny, but of conduct unbecoming or something like that.
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Gripping, extreme character study
tignor-213 April 2000
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.
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