Dracula with music by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet at Arlene Schnitzer Center, Portland, OR

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

A friend of mine recently said he was reading the novel THE CAINE MUTINY by Herman Wouk and asked if I had ever seen the movie. I had to admit I had not. So when my new favorite cable station HDNET MOVIES was showing it this month, I decided this was a good time to catch a film I had passed over on TV endless times before. Having not read the novel, I can only hope that the book is not nearly as melodramatic as the film. Produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by Edward Dmytryk, the film relates the story of the WWII minesweeper the Caine and the crew's "mutiny" against their paranoid Lt. Commander Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) and the subsequent trial.

We're introduced to the crew: career naval man Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), glib communications officer Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray), comic relief provided by a young Lee Marvin and Claude Akins as Meatball and Horrible, and the idealistic new Ensign (Robert Francis), newly graduated from Princeton.

Actor Robert Francis continues the tradition of young actors in the 1950's, handsome but a bit over their head with veterans like Bogart and MacMurray. Francis reminds me of the young Jeffery Hunter with John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (1956) or Geoffrey Horne with William Holden in THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (1957). I'd never seen Francis in a film before and sadly, I learned he died a year later in 1955 in a small plane crash, having only made 4 films.
The first third of the film is a bit silly with a side love story involving Ensign Keith (Francis) and his singer girlfriend. A brief side trip to Yosemite for the two love birds is a mild annoyance and even the beauty of Yosemite National Park is underused.

But the film picks up with the introduction of Bogart's Queeg as he takes over command of the Caine and his determination to clean up the lackadaisical atmosphere of the ship. Director Dmytryk make great use of actual navy warships that add great authenticity to the story. The film was made just 9 years after WWII ended.

For me, Bogart's Captain Queeg is just an older version of his character Fred C. Dobbs in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE (1948). Crusty and paranoid, Bogart does a fine job, making Queeg both vulnerable and despicable but it's a role he's done already.

The final third of the film is where THE CAINE MUTINY really shows its teeth. Van Johnson and Robert Francis "mutiny" to save the Caine during a typhoon as Queeg struggles to maintain command and his sanity. At the subsequent military trial, a great battle of wits ensues between military defense attorney Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) and prosecuting defense attorney Lt. Commander Challee (E.G. Marshall). The trial is well written and staged.

Jose Ferrer steals the movie in the final act in my opinion. He'd rather go after the mutineers then the captain but realizes his duty. And, Fred MacMurray who we all know as the benevolent father in the TV show MY THREE SONS shows depth as an immoral cad.

I was glad to finally watch THE CAINE MUTINY. It listed a bit at the beginning like an old war ship but once it got going, it was a compelling drama.

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