johnlink ranks THE CAINE MUTINY (1954)

When looking at the Bogart filmography, there are really two films on it which I am embarrassed about not seeing. With this viewing of THE CAINE MUTINY, I can knock one of those of the list. Now I just need to hunt down AFRICAN QUEEN. On a side note, this marks the 4th movie I’ve watched from the 50s so far this year, already doubling last year’s total. I’d been meaning to get to a lot of these classics (especially any Bogart or Hitchcock stuff which I have not previously visited for these pages), so I’m glad to see progress there.

I watched THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) on 2.6.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

At multiple points during the last act of this film, my jaw went slack and I whispered ‘wow’ to myself, alone, watching this unfold. Nothing crazy happens. No major twist, no deus ex machina, no sudden burst of the unexpected. Instead the film’s last act is just filled with amazing writing, top level acting, and undeniable power.

The first two acts of this film happen aboard the Caine, a minesweeper in WWII which has come under the leadership of a new Captain, Captain Queeg (Bogart). This new leader is a stickler for details, often obsessing over minutiae. His officers, who were previously undisciplined slackers, resent some of this, but also truly start to believe that the man might be insane. Without spoiling anything, the last act twist puts everyone in a court room where a major court martial is under way.

Not to short change A FEW GOOD MEN, because I love that film, but after seeing CAINE MUTINY it is easy to see the influence Queeg has over Nicholson’s Coloniel Jessop. The origin of that character can easily be found in Bogart’s Queeg. But it wouldn’t have happened if the writing wasn’t spot on and the performance wasn’t spot on. I’ve constantly, throughout Bogart reviews, mentioned the persona he created in film noir which he was always a little hesitant to shy away from. Well, holy shit, does he shy away from it here. In CAINE, Bogart is borderline manical, but not in a murderous way. Rather he is someone who is desperate to maintain order, to prove himself, to constantly be right. His last speech might be the finest acting performance of his career (again, I still need to see AFRICAN QUEEN, which he won the Oscar for).

But a major strength of this movie can be found in the depth of character throughout. Van Johnson’s XO, maryk, is a good navy man who is loyal and will always do the right thing regardless of consequence. Jose Ferrer plays a lawyer who doesn’t want to take the case he takes on, and despises someone different thanyou may think. Fred MacMurray is Lt. Keefer, third in command. He hates the navy, just wants to right his novel while on the boat, and does everything he can to stay out of both theliteral and figurative crosshairs. And finally, Robert Francis provides the audience perspective as fresh-faced Ens. Willie Keith, the most junior officer on board the ship. All of these men are fully fleshed out. There is no cheating in the writing, no cheap moves. The consistancy in character here is the type of stuff young film writers should be studying.

This is a film about passing the buck versus manning up. It’s about loyalty to duty versus loyalty to your fellow man. But this doesn’t exist soley in the arena of war. Ferrer gives a speech at the end of this, admonishing the officers for not doing anything, for not standing up sooner. The dialogue can be lifted from the context of this film and instead directed to those who did not stand up to the Communist trials that had just taken place in the US, with Hollywood being a major target. Many in Hollywood decided to back away, fearing that supporting someone who may be perceived as communist would lead they themselves to be accused of commie behavior. On one hand, it was hard to blame them. But many people did try to stand up (famously called the Hollywood Ten, of which CAINE director Edward Dmytyk was a part of). As such, this film’s heroes are knocked down a couple of pegs in the end of this film, as they realize what true heroism would really have been.

Back to the film, even the model shots of the Caine in a typhoon work. I usually roll my eyes and laugh at these moments in older films, but the work done in this film is marvelous. There is realism on this boat, it doesn’t feel like a set. Part of that is thanks to a young Lee Marvin, who was cast in this as a minor role both for his acting ability and for his expertise in military affairs.

I just can’t say enough good about this movie. I have watched a lot of Bogart over the years, and I absolutely have to put this in the CASABLANCA, MALTESE FALCON level, which to me is the upper level of cinema ever. I’ve been giving above-average score, though not spectacular scores, to several movie lately. This one earns the high marks it receives.



Negative bonus point for the music. Something which could have been subversive and plot-heightening was played for flare and bombast. The sounds of this film are those of traditional brassy military stuff. It’s really too bad, because it was a missed opportunity. I really wish that Dmytryk could have borrowed Bernard Hermann from Hitchcok for this movie!



~ by johnlink00 on February 7, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks THE CAINE MUTINY (1954)”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: