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Bear Growls: The Caine Mutiny

 

 

Our bruin friend at Saint Corbinian’s Bear takes a look at one of my favorite movies:

 

Surely one of the greatest movies of all time is the 1954 naval drama The Caine Mutiny, based on Herman Wouk’s novel. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, E.G. Marshall and Jose Ferrer. Bogart’s Captain Queeg is the skipper of an old minesweeper, USS Cain. One can hardly imagine a less glamorous ship. Queeg is quirky, rigid, and insecure. When he gets nervous, he rolls two steel balls in his hand.

His wardroom, instigated by Fred McMurray’s character — a writer — lose respect for Captain Queeg after a number of lapses of judgment. When Queeg reaches out to his officers to try to repair mutual respect, he meets a stony rebuff.

When a typhoon threatens to capsize the ship, Queeg does not seem up to the crisis. His executive officer, played by Van Johnson, relieves Captain Queeg of duty and takes command of the ship.

During the ensuing court-martial (the Navy does not take mutiny well) Captain Queeg takes the stand. What follows may be Bogart’s best performance, and is a film classic. We see in Queeg an ordinary man who was simply not up to the extraordinary responsibilities he had been given. Under the effective cross-examination of trial defense counsel, played by Jose Ferrer, Captain Queeg slowly strips himself of his dignity as his psychological unfitness for command is revealed.

Realizing what he has done, Captain Queeg, who has largely been allowed to testify in a narrative, offers to answer specific questions. There follows a series of tight shots of trial counsel, played by E.G. Marshall, and the other officers present, looking at Captain Queeg’s train wreck with a mixture of horror and sympathy as we hear only the clack of Queeg’s ball bearings.

It is hard for us to see a man who should command respect be revealed as incompetent. The captain of a U.S. warship is a father, a leader, and an exemplar. His commands are unquestioned. (The XO does all of his dirty work.) To see someone fall from such an exalted position is sad. What’s even worse is serving under such a captain.

We’re not sure if Van Johnson’s “mutiny” saved Cain or not. A few ships were lost, but the vast majority survived. What was clear was that the circumstances were extremely dangerous, and the captain’s actions were questionable. The trust between leader and led had already been eroded. It was a position no officer should have been put in. Van Johnson had to do what he thought best, and would never be certain he was right in substituting his judgment for his captain’s.

After the trial, a drunken trial defense counsel, played by Jose Ferrer, is hardly in a celebratory mood, despite his win.  He points out that while he was going to law school and the other officers were following their own civilian pursuits, Captain Queeg had the low-paying, unglamorous job, of maintaining a peacetime navy. He reminds them that when he reached out to them, they were cold. But it’s Fred MacMurray’s writer character, LT Keefer who is singled out for the worst treatment.

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The Caine Mutiny: A Review

(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller.  I posted this again in 2013, but the scene after the court-martial was not online.  That pivotal scene is now available, so I am reposting this with the scene include in the review.  The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films in that it examines two themes, the law and military service, that have ever fascinated me.)

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 33 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.  Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine  from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them. Continue Reading

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The Caine Mutiny: A Review

(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller.  The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films and I am taking the excuse of my vacation from the blog to repost this review.)

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 31 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.  Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine  from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. Continue Reading