When recent naval graduate Keith is assigned to serve on the USS Caine, he’s greatly disappointed. The Caine is the laughing stock of the fleet. Rusty, dirty with laid back sailors, the Captain runs a sloppy, but functional ship. When he retires, new Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) vows to get everything back to strict Navy codes. But his priorities seem out of whack. He becomes so concerned over an un-tucked shirt tail that the ship runs over its own tow line and his officers start to question his abilities as captain.
The tow line is just the first strike. Captain Queeg makes more rash and unpredictable decisions, including turning the whole ship upside down because someone ate the remaining leftover strawberries. It’s not only his abilities the officers are doubting, but Captain Queeg’s sanity. During a frightening typhoon, Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson) relieves Captain Queeg and takes over in order to save the ship from destruction. This heroic action is considered mutiny, and the remainder of the film takes place within a courtroom deciding Lt. Maryk’s fate.
Humphrey Bogart is always a delight to watch and here is no different. His officers diagnose Queeg to be paranoid. Bogart brings that to life with nervous habits, like clinking two metal balls in his hand. The strawberries incident is funnier than it was probably meant to be. He gathers all the officers around, asks how many servings they had, and to simulate the strawberries, he has a man scoop out servings of sand. And towards the end when Queeg testifies, it’s a stirring moment only a great actor like Bogart could pull off.
The typhoon scene is one of the most memorable in the film. The ship rocks back and forth so violently along the waves, it looks like it could capsize at any moment. We sit on the edge of our seats and cringe while Queeg barks orders that will just make the situation worse. The image of huge waves knocking the mast of the Caine apart is done so well, it’s scary. Edward Dmytryk’s expert directing here is worthy of praise to this day, yet, he was not nominated for The Caine Mutiny.
This film can fit so many different personalities. It’s about WWII, the Navy, justice, overthrowing and outsmarting authority, psychology and even has a dash of romance. This mix is so well balanced that if you enjoy any of those things, I encourage you to see The Caine Mutiny.
“Ahh, but the strawberries that’s… that’s where I had them.”
I agree–this is a great film. Bogart and MacMurray are wonderful, but I also think this is probably Van Johnson’s best role. I actually found the subplot of Keith and his romance to be the least interesting part of the film, but it does provide a touch of ‘sanity’ to the picture.
Still an excellent film to watch and Bogart is at his best. Not to disrespect WATERFRONT, but I would have traded Oscars between Brando and Bogart…Brando gets it in 1951 for STREETCAR and Bogart gets it in 1954 for this performance. It was brilliant, especially in the final courtroom scene. This was a heluva year for Bogart between CAINE, SABRINA, & BAREFOOT CONTESSA. so in my book he deserved the recognition. Also, don’t overlook Fred MacMurray’s masterful performance as the Caine weasel…and Jose Ferrer as the attorney. Unfortunately, I think the studio was trying to present a “new” star with the Ens. Keith role and it was the film’s (only) really weak point. Definitely worth a spot in any film collection.