The Caine Mutiny

CaineMutinySuggested by Brad Nelson • When a US Naval captain shows signs of mental instability that jeopardizes the ship, the first officer relieves him of command and faces court martial for mutiny. The Navy must then decide if this was a criminal act or an act of courage to save a ship from destruction.
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6 Responses to The Caine Mutiny

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I assume this is the old movie with Humphrey Bogard as Captain Queeg and Fred MacMurray as Lieutenant Keefer. It’s certainly an excellent version of the book, though it changes the ending. I’ve read 2 books by Herman Wouk — The Caine Mutiny and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, as I believe I’ve pointed out before. A couple of decades ago there was a TV presentation of the latter, which was also quite good.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      This is, of course, the movie with Humphrey Bogart. I started reading the book, got a little bored, and began longing to see the movie again. And this is certainly a great enough movie to put on this Wall of Fame Videoshelf. The book was okay. It might even be very good. But I wasn’t that interested in all the build-up between Willie Keith and his girl, and the conflict between him and his mother.

      The notable thing about this movie is Humphrey Bogart’s performance. I read that after doing the scene where he gives testimony in front of the court, the cast and crew stood and applauded, they were so moved by his performance.

      The other notable thing is the extremely wooden performance of Robert Francis as Willie Keith. Tragically, he died soon after this movie was released, so I guess I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. But, goodness sakes, what a wooden performance. But this is likely Fred MacMurray’s best performance. (Okay, maybe he was better in “Double Indemnity” because it was a larger role.) And as much as I like Frank Sinatra, I thought his Oscar for “From Here to Eternity” was weak. But MacMurray shows with great subtlety what a real scuzzball can look like.

      Lee Marvin has a small role. And because he was a former Marine (okay…once a Marine, always a Marine), he was an unofficial technical advisor on the film. Van Johnson is terrific and it is notable that he did not use any makeup over his scars. I hadn’t seen this movie until now in HD, so I had never noticed them before. He got them in a car accident or something. But he didn’t want them covered up because he thought it added to the realism of his character. I guess I gained some more respect for this guy because of that.

      José Ferrer is notable as the lawyer who defends Van Johnson. It’s one of his best performances. Claude Akins and E.G. Marshall have small roles as well.

      The book may be terrific. But I decided that the movie has now thoroughly owned this material, and rightfully so. It’s also notable that the book was a Pulitzer Prize winner. And trending with Nobel Prize winners, my observation is that books that show America or the West in a bad light are the types of books that win the Pulitzer. The Navy was very wary about cooperating with the movie producers and demanded that disclaimer at the start that there has never been a mutiny on a Navy ship.

      Much like “From Here to Eternity,” we see the modern fascination with “getting underneath to where the dirt is.” Reality can’t ever be noble. The “real” is supposedly the dodgy stuff underneath. Although there might be a Pulitzer Prize winner that shows America in a good light, I sort of doubt it.

      Still, although there seem little doubt in my mind that the book got the Pulitzer for prodding an American institution (the writing is just not all that good, but serviceable for pulp fiction), José Ferrer and Van Johnson at the end (perhaps tracking with the novel…I have no idea) make it clear that this was a failure of the officers to support their captain, however imperfect that captain might have been.

      This “rough and ugly underbelly” was also fairly apparent in Michener’s Pulitzer winner “Tales of the South Pacific.” Some of the short stories were good. But what I think earned it Pulitzer status is that it was, for better or for worse, trying to strike a blow for “realism” by getting to the supposedly fallible and ill-motivated bottom of it all. Just as Obama was awarded a Nobel Prize as a way to bolster anti-Americanism, I think more than a few Pulitzer were handed out for much the same things. But certainly yo do have 1986’s “Lonesome Dove” which (going by the series made from it) would seem to present a positive image.

      • Timothy Lnne says:

        The need to support hte captain, and in fact the entire confrontation between the lawyer and Keefer at the party, comes straight from the book. Wouk’s point wasn’t that the Navy is perfect, of course, or even simply that it’s imperfect, but that even in its imperfection one must still follow the chain of command. In the end, Keefer becomes the captain of the Caine, does a poor job, and receives an appropriate gift from his Exec, Keith — a set of ball bearings.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I don’t know how the book goes, but in the movie, Jose Ferrer at the end asks Van Johnson — saying that he is an honest man — if any of this would have happened if they would have responded to the captain’s request for a little help. In hindsight, Johnson agrees with Ferrer. And the casual viewer of this movie then clearly understands how this situation was poisoned by the flippant, intellectual, and anti-Navy mindset of MacMurray (played so well). He’s a prick and he poisons the whole situation.

          Ferrer also points out in the movie that Bogart was the guy on the front lines while these fraternity boys were back in the states partying. It’s a very *conservative* statement by Ferrer and indeed salvages this movie from being typical nihilistic, deconstructionist Hollywood bilge to something far more thoughtful.

          Maybe one day I’ll finish the book and see how it’s all handled by the author. But I’m just so enamored with the movie, the book pales in comparison…a reversal from what is typical regarding books/movies.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            And as I said, that all comes straight from the book, where the lawyer (like Wouk, a Jew) points out that it was people like Queeg, not Maryk or Keefer or even he himself who prevented Hermann Göring from using his grandmother to soap his rear.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              So it sounds as if you’re saying there are no major plot or thematic changes between the book and the movie. That’s certainly nice.

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