This is a thought-provoking movie with a terrific cast. I didn’t even mind the extraneous romantic sub-plot quite as much as I did on previous occasions.
The story takes place in the Pacific during WWII. It is more or less seen through the eyes of Ens. Willie Keith, who has recently graduated from officer school and is off on his first voyage. He is a rich kid with an over-protective mother who is in love with May Winn (played by May Winn!), a nightclub singer. We spend too much time in the first part of the movie focusing on Willie’s conflict between choosing May or his mother and taking a field trip to Yosemite National Park.
Things get better when we board the U.S.S. Caine with Willie. The Caine is a decrepit old ship, whose main function is to tow targets for other ships to practice on. The captain is Cmdr. De Vrees (Tom Tully) a crusty but fair old-timer with a realistic view of his ship and its mission. Unfortunately, he has allowed discipline to lapse a bit. The first officer is Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), a career navy man. The communications officer is Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray). Keefer is a self-styled novelist with a very cynical view of the navy.
Cmdr. De Vrees is promoted and replaced by Lt. Cmdr. Queeg (Humphrey Bogart). Queeg is a very strict disciplinarian. Keefer immediately takes a dislike to him and suggests to Maryk that he has a paranoid personality. Queeg reveals though a number of incidents that he is very insecure, overreacts, and must always be right. Keefer starts pumping Maryk with ideas about a Navy provision that allows the first officer to take over when the captain is incapable of command. Queeg has made several questionable judgement calls in the past. When the ship is caught up in a typhoon and Queeg will not listen to Maryk’s advice about the course the ship should take, Maryk relieves him of command.
Maryk is court-martialed when the ship returns Stateside. He is defended by attorney Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), who isn’t exactly in love with his client. The prosecutor is played by E.G. Marshall.
This is three-quarters of a practically perfect film. Why the filmmakers found it necessary to spend so much time with the ensign and his love affair is beyond me. It does not help that the actors concerned are fairly weak.
But once we get to sea the story is riveting. Humphrey Bogart is really great as the neurotic captain, a role quite different than his usual fare. Fred MacMurray makes an excellent stinker and Jose Ferrer is perfect for his part. This is the kind of movie that asks the viewer to contemplate the bigger ethical questions involved. Recommended.
The Caine Mutiny was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Actor (Bogart); Best Supporting Actor (Tully); Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.