Another courtroom drama, and it turns out to be produced by Stanley Kramer, who directed “Inherit the Wind” and “Judgment at Nuremburg.”
I’ve seen “The Caine Mutiny” a few times over the years. In a nutshell (pun halfheartedly intended), Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) is commander of the Caine, and he loses his shit, finally being relieved of command during a typhoon.
That’s the first part. The second is back ashore, where two of his officers are being court martialed for mutiny. (It’s like a precursor of Law & Order that way)
One critic called this “Bogart’s last great performance,” and it is. At the time, he was in the early stages of the throat cancer that would ultimately kill him. Ironically, this is the only Bogie film I’ve ever seen where he neither smoked nor drank on screen.
Fred MacMurray plays Lt Tom Kiefer, who points out Queeg’s paranoia, then wusses out at the court martial. Van Johnson is Steve Meryk, the executive officer who ultimately relieves Queeg of command.
At the story’s center is Ensign Willie Keith, a rich kid Princeton grad played by Robert Francis. Francis was a handsome young actor, and he shows the charismatic presence that might have made him a star. (He was killed in a plane crash after only four roles)
If Ensign Keith was the story center, the two runaway performances are Bogart and Jose Ferrer as Lt Barney Greenwald, the defense attorney. Their clash during the court martial is Caine’s climax.
“The Caine Mutiny” was in many ways at the crossroads of American film. It was a product of the studio system’s last years. Bogart was nominated for Best Actor. He lost to Marlon Brando for “On the Waterfront.”
And so the torch was passed.
A couple Tom Zone notes:
*-Lee Marvin plays one of the Caine’s crew members. In real life, Lee Marvin was a decorated WW2 vet, who was used as an unofficial technical advisor. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
*-Claude Akins is another crewman; he later played the pious reverend in “Inherit the Wind.”
*-This is the last time Max Steiner did the music on a Humphrey Bogart film. I’m sorry, but there’s way too much music. No wonder the Pacific theater was so tough: the constant brass-intensive music would’ve made it impossible to sleep.
*-Van Johnson’s character has a number of facial scars. These were real, suffered during a car accident years before. Until “Caine,” he’d been slathered with heavy makeup to hide the scars.
*-Blazing Saddles parallel: Just as Lili von Schtupp was a Marlene Dietrich parody (ref: Judgment at Nuremburg), the schoolmarm in BS is “Harriet van Johnson” (no word on whether she ends up with Anal Johnson))