Bogie Loses His Bearings
There has been plenty written about "The Caine Mutiny" over the years, from it being based on Herman Wouk Pulitzer Prize winning novel to the fact that at the time of filming Humphrey Bogart was seriously ill from yet to be diagnosed cancer. But the most important thing I can tell you about "The Caine Mutiny" is that it is gripping from start to finish giving us drama at sea and then drama in a court room. And the reason why, well partly down to some fabulous performances especially from Bogart but also because this isn't a war movie but a movie about people, about command and about a man who is on the edge.
Having graduated from Naval Academy Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis - They Rode West) is assigned aboard the Caine, a small mine sweeper where under Comdr. DeVriess (Tom Tully) rules and regulations have slipped much to Keith's disgust. It is why when DeVriess is replaced with the strict Lt. Cmdr. Queeg (Humphrey Bogart - The African Queen); Willie is pleased to see someone trying to run things as they should be. But soon the cracks start to show as Willie along with Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson) and Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) notice Queeg's strange behaviour as he obsesses about insignificant things such as missing strawberries and untucked shirts making a big thing out of things which are unimportant. As Queeg's behaviour gets more obsessive it forces Maryk to relieve him of his command and in doing so facing a court martial as he is accused of mutiny.
Let me just say the writing in "The Caine Mutiny" is brilliant and we have this wonderful storyline which is a journey from Willie graduating, his first experiences of naval life, the craziness under Queeg's command and right through to the courtroom drama. There is a wonderful mix of drama and comedy which you sort of expect not only from a movie based on a war ship but also one which features Lee Marvin as a seaman called Meatball. Some of it initially seems out of place, a subplot surrounding Willie being controlled by his mum and his disappointed girlfriend May feels wrong but in the end helps to build his character.
But the truth is there are certain things to "The Caine Mutiny" which stand out and the main one is Humphrey Bogart who from the minute we meet him to when he takes the stand in the court martial case is captivating. He brings Queeg to life and makes us quickly aware that this is a man who is on the edge, as he fumbles about with two ball bearings as a way of trying to control his emotions and temper. And we watch as his obsessive nature not only leads to various issues but also moments of paranoia as he blindly refuses to accept that he is wrong at any time. All of which culminates in the courtroom, a spellbinding moment which has you captivated from the way Bogart emotes everything, the frantic tone of voice to the sense of panic and fear in his eyes and the general sense of agitation. That scene is for me one of the top 10 courtroom scenes you will ever see.
Talking of the courtroom that leads me to JosÃ© Ferrer as Maryk's defence lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald because firstly he gets across the fact he dislikes having to defend Maryk as what the consequences of success would mean for Queeg. But it is another captivating performance, restrained but in a way letting us know that his lack of questioning of those who take the stand is because of when Queeg takes the stand. It is hard to explain because it is not your usual cocky lawyer who out smarts others because in Greenwald there is that element of distaste yet we sense he is smart.
The courtroom scenes also play a big part for the next compelling performance that of Fred MacMurray as Lt. Tom Keefer who first suggests that Queeg is mentally unbalanced in a scene where he lists of all the tell tale signs to both Maryk and Willie. What makes MacMurray's performance so interesting is that it is surprisingly complex, on the surface level Keefer seems just a stereotypical character from any naval movie yet as we come to understand he is not the confident man we first meet. The irony of all this is that whilst are introduction to "The Caine Mutiny" is via Robert Francis as Willie Keith and Van Johnson plays Maryk who is on trial for mutiny it is Bogart, Ferrer and MacMurray's performances which makes the movie compelling.
What this all boils down to is that "The Caine Mutiny" is a fantastic drama, part war movie, part courtroom drama, 100% compelling. And it is compelling, even now, thanks to good writing but more importantly some exceptional performances most notably from Humphrey Bogart who delivers one of the best courtroom scenes you will ever see.