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USA 1954
Directed by
Edward Dymtryk
124 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Caine Mutiny

Based on a 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Herman Wouk who drew from his own experiences The Caine Mutiny is part flag-waver and part considered adult drama.

The film is set in the latter stages of WWII and centres upon Lt. Willis Keith (Robert Francis), a naïve new ensign on his first posting who relishes the rhetoric of his commander at the naval college from which he has just graduated who tells him and his fellow graduates that the “The American Way of Life must be protected even with life itself” or words to that effect.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed he is keen to perform feats of valour but is immediately disappointed to find that his first posting is to a beaten-up mine sweeper, The Caine, a rust-bucket whose commander (Tom Tully) and crew (one of whom is Lee Marvin) have resigned themselves to their unglamorous lot.
When Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) takes command and tells his officers “There’s the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way and my way…and if you do things my way we’ll get along” Keith perks up with expectations of getting things ship-shape. But very soon the meaning of Queeg’s promise become apparent – he’s paranoid as hell. When finally he heads them all into a typhoon Keith finds himself joining with his fellow officers (Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray) to relieve Queeg of his command.

The first third of the movie is given over to earnest documentary-like (including a fair slice of stock footage) depiction of Navy life, boosted by Max Steiner’s rousing score and interlaced with a portrayal of Keith’s relationship with his clinging girl friend and dominating mother. This is all routine stuff but when Bogart enters the scene things pick-up. Recalling his break-out role in The Petrified Forest (1936) Queeg flinches and twitches in the grip of what today we would call PTSD, spraying his unsettled staff in a mannered but engagingly off-kilter performance.

The climactic  third act, which is given over to the court-martial with José Ferrer as the lawyer for the defence and E.G.Marshall for the prosecution is for such things, well written by screenwriter Stanley Roberts.

FYI:  For thematically-related material see Breaker Morant (1979). Robert Francis who was making his screen debut in what was a misguided attempt to make him a star died the following year in a plane crash.




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