Monday, July 03, 2006

The Caine Mutiny


Dir: Edward Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet; Back to Bataan; The End of the Affair; The Carpetbaggers)

One of favorite movies from my youth, The Caine Mutiny is a real sleeper of a character study. It chronicles the slow deterioration from sanity of Navy Capt. Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) and the eventual displacement of him from command at war by a disparate group of officers aboard the U.S.S. Caine. While the first half seems to plod a bit, obsessing about small details to build the case for mutiny, it is the second half of the films that is truly brilliant. This is one of those films that, whenever it is on TV, I find myself watching, making that court martial sequence of my most familair in cinema.

The film has flaws, for sure. Robert Francis does nothing for me as the green Lt. Keith, and his love story with May Wynn is pretty silly. But other than that, the acting is exemplary. When you have Lee Marvin and Claude Aikens in bit supporting parts, you are doing OK. Van Johnson is very compelling as the number two in command, who makes up for his lack of intelligence with courage and strength of convinction. Fred MacMurray, easily one of my favorite actors, is great as the oily and cynical novelist whose theories of psychology drive the bid for mutiny.

Bogart gives one of his best performances as the paranoid Queeg. The iconic rolling steel balls in his hand is just one great touch. The "strawberries" scene has made its made into popular culture as an example of paranoia. Bogart shows a real range here, very subtly moving from crusading captain to broken old man. Casablanca is, obviously, his masterpiece. But I think The Caine Mutiny belongs on the list of his most compelling triumphs.

Jose Ferrer steals the show, though. As the shrewd defense lawyer, he is the driving force behind the fascinating defense as it unfolds. What I love about the second half so much is that it gets you to sympathize with the mutineers, and then turn all of that on its head, forcing us to reconsider who was really at fault. Ferrer's closing speech of the film is one of the best acted, written, and narratively satisfying climaxes to a film that I have ever seen. I invariably repeat it if I have Caine on DVD (which I did this time), and never grow tired of it. A real perfect storm of the elements that can make films so interesting.

The Caine Mutiny is a very thoughtful exploration of duty and the psychological impact of war. There is a whole lot of acting talent on the screen, and the film is able to overcome its more trite elements. I very highly recommend it for those interested in either war or courtroom movies.