Today’s movie is The Caine Mutiny (1954) starring among others, Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, and José Ferrer. This great movie covers two of my favorite genres, war movies, and trial movies. What can be better than a military court martial movie? This film was directed by Edward Dmytryk and based on a Herman Wouk novel.
So, let’s get going with the actors, many of whom we have seen before.
Van Johnson played reserve officer Lt. Steve Maryk. Johnson was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).
Fred MacMurray played Lt. Tom Keefer, a man that would rather be writing books than serving in the Navy. MacMurray was covered in Episode 90 – Double Indemnity (1944).
Lee Marvin played Meatball, a battle-hardened sailor. Marvin was covered in Episode 66 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962).
May Wynn played the role of May Wynn. Huh! She was the love interest of Ens. Keith. May was covered in Episode 37 – The Violent Men (1955).
Whit Bissell plays psychologist Lt. Comdr. Dickson M.D. Bissell was covered in Episode 30 – Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Herbert Anderson was uncredited, played another of the ship’s officers, Ens. Rabbit. Anderson was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).
E.G. Marshall did a great job as Lt. Comdr. Challee, the prosecutor. Marshall was covered in Episode 68 – The Buccaneer (1958).
José Ferrer played Navy defense lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald. Ferrer was born in 1912 in Puerto Rico. Being from a wealthy family, he attended a Swiss boarding school, the Institut Le Rosey. He graduated from Princeton University in 1933.
By 1935, Ferrer was acting on Broadway. Ferrer made his film debut in Joan of Arc (1948) as the Dauphin opposite a young Ingrid Bergman. Another great film role was in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) for which Ferrer became the first Hispanic to win an Oscar. He played the role of short man Toulouse-Lautrec in the John Huston directed, Moulin Rouge (1952).
Other important roles for Ferrer include playing Rev. Davidson in Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with Rita Hayworth, The Caine Mutiny (1954), as a sadistic Turkish commander in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and the double-crossing Professor Siletski in To Be or Not to Be (1983), and as Emperor Shaddam IV in Dune (1984). Ferrer had an active television career and also directed films. I would be remised if I didn’t mention two of his lesser known films, The Swarm (1978) and Dracula’s Dog (1977), of which I have only seen the first. Ferrer died in 1992 at the age of 80 from colon cancer.
Robert Francis was cast in the role of Ens. Willie Keith, the young man with a lot to learn about life. Francis was born in 1930 in California. Relatively athletic, he was spotted on a Santa Monica beach by a talent scout. Does this happen? In 1947, he graduated from Pasadena City College. He started taking acting lessons but had to stop for two years while he was in the Army. He continued to take acting lessons after he was discharged. The husband of his acting coach thought that the polite young man would work well with the head of the studio Harry Cohn. Cohn had been dealing with those rebels without a clue like Brando and Dean. After he was screen tested, he was offered a contract with the studio.
This cut into his passion for flying. He had befriended Howard Hughes and the two often when flying. Francis’ first role was in The Caine Mutiny (1954) alongside some of the greatest actors of a generation. As a rising young star he was quickly cast into They Road West (1954). This was followed by The Bamboo Prison (1954) a Korean War POW tale. His final movie was another great one. Directed by John Ford, The Long Gray Line (1955) is a tale of the US Military Academy at West Point.
After these four successes, Francis was loaned to MGM for the movie Tribute to a Bad Man (1956) with James Cagney. However, he never made it to the set. About a week before he was set to travel to the location on July 31, 1955. He and two others took off from Burbank. The engine stalled and all the occupants were killed. Francis was 25 years old.
Tom Tully played the first captain of the USS. Caine, Comdr. DeVriess. DeVriess ran a very loose ship. Tully was born in Colorado in 1908. After serving in the Navy, he got his first credited role in the submarine movie, Destination Tokyo (1943) and North Pursuit (1943). His early career is steeped with noir films like Lady in the Lake (1947) and westerns like Blood on the Moon (1948). His greatest film roles are considered to be The Caine Mutiny (1954), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), with Clint Eastwood, and Charlie Varrick (1973).
Tully did a large amount of television work including a series “The Lineup” 1954-1959. In the early 1970s, on a USO tour of Vietnam, Tully contracted a parasite that eventually contributed to his death in 1982.
Claude Akins was cast in the role of Seaman Lugatch aka ‘Horrible’. Claude was born in 1926 in Georgia but raised in Indiana. He served during World War II in Burma and the Philippines. Following the war, he attended Northwestern and studied theater.
Claude was a big tough guy and was great at playing a big tough guy. His film career started out with a bang, with an uncredited role as one of the boxing sergeants in From Here to Eternity (1953). He started working in television around this time as well. Claude worked in noirish detective dramas in films like The Human Jungle (1954), Down Three Dark Streets (1954), Witness to Murder (1954), and Shield for Murder (1954). He was adept at playing military roles too with films like, From Here to Eternity (1953), The Raid (1954), The Caine Mutiny (1954), The Sea Chase (1955), The Sharkfighters (1956), The Proud and the Profane (1956), Battle Stations (1956), and Onionhead (1958). His westerns are too numerous to name. Other great roles include Rio Bravo (1959) with John Wayne, The Defiant Ones (1958), Merrill’s Marauders (1962), The Killers (1964), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), where he played gorilla General Aldo. And that is go-rilla not gu-rilla. Thanks, Captain Ron.
However, I feel that one of his most powerful roles was as a righteous clergyman out to save his town from Darwinism, regardless of the cost, in Inherit the Wind (1960). Claude continued to work until his death in 1994.
Jerry Paris has a brief role as Ens. Barney Harding. Paris was born in San Francisco in 1925. Paris served in the Navy during World War II. Following his discharge, Paris received a degree from New York University and UCLA before attending the Actor’s Studio. His first film was in 1949 as an usher in My Foolish Heart (1949) and Battleground (1949) as a German Sergeant.
Paris got roles in better films such as Outrage (1950), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), D.O.A. (1950), The Wild One (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Marty (1955), The Naked and the Dead (1958) and The Great Impostor (1961) but he never got beyond the buddy to be the star.
By 1959, he had moved into more television work. He is probably best remembered as the neighbor on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” 1961-1966. During his work on this show, he began directing and worked on such hits as “Happy Days” and “The Odd Couple.” In total, he had 59 directing credits.
Jerry would work in film occasionally and his last role was uncredited as a Priest in a line-up in Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986). Sadly, he died that same year at the age of 60.
James Best played an uncredited Lt., JG Jorgensen. Best has been one of my favorite actors since the first time I saw him deliver the line in Shenandoah (1965) “We ain’t got a dog’s chance in hell.”
Best was born in Kentucky in 1926. Orphaned, he was adopted and raised in Indiana. Best finished high school and it wasn’t long until he joined the Army during World War II. Since he entered the war late, most of his time was spent as a military policeman in Germany following the surrender. Later he was transferred to the Special Services, never to be confused with Special Forces, where he learned to act.
Following his time in the Army, Best worked for stock companies until he was noticed by Universal and given a contract. He started out with westerns like Kansas Raiders (1950) and Winchester ’73 (1950) and war films like Target Unknown (1951), Flat Top (1952), and Francis Goes to West Point (1952).
Best had an important role in Shenandoah (1965) and was in some of the Burt Reynolds films like Gator (1976) and Hooper (1978).
Although Best worked a lot he never became a big star in films. He was more successful on television. He is best known for a stitch role on “The Dukes of Hazzard” 1979-1985 as Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane.
As he began to suffer from physical ailments, he became a painter and taught acting in California and Florida. He traveled making personal appearances until his death in 2015.
To get support for this movie from the Navy, they had, to begin with, a disclaimer that there has never been a mutiny on a US Navy vessel.
During World War II, Princeton graduate William Keith (Robert Francis) is graduating from his 90-day officer’s training. He meets his mother and uncle but doesn’t have to courage to bring his girlfriend May Wynn, who took her stage name from this part. He uses hand signals to tell her that he will see her at 10 pm as he is drug away by his mother. Just for note, Wynn is two years older than Francis, but she appears to be much older than her co-star.
That night Willie makes it to the club where May is a singer. If a girl tells you she is a singer, she is a stripper, if she tells you she is a stripper, she is a hooker, if she tells you she is a hooker, runaway. Anyway, May is upset with Willie’s actions. He tells her that he is shipping out. Willie tells her that he loves her, and he wants to introduce her to his mother. When Willie asks for sex, May leaves upset.
Willie is sent to San Francisco for transport to Pearl Harbor for destroyer duty. His mother sees him to the dock. When he gets to his ship, the USS Caine, he is very disappointed because it is poor repair from battle wear and the men are sloppy and unkept.
Willie meets his fellow officers, Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray) a super sarcastic officer that is more interested in writing books than winning the war, Lt. Maryk (Van Johnson) who is a straight talking average intelligence executive officer. Willie is taken to meet the Captain DeVriess (Tom Tully). The shirtless captain asks Willie if he expected better than a minesweeper. Willie admits he did and the captain says that he hopes he is good enough for the Caine.
Willie meets another officer Ens. Barney Harding (Jerry Paris) and the two are given a tour of the ship by the smirking and wise-cracking Keefer. He makes them climb the mast of the ship as the last part of their tour.
In the officer’s mess, Captain DeVriess starts needling Willie. Willie’s family has pulled strings and he has orders to leave the ship and work on the admiral’s staff. Willie yields to peer pressure and refuses the transfer.
The Caine heads to sea in the Pacific and Willie begins learning his job. They drill for the mine sweeping that the ship is never asked to do. One of the tow fish breaks a line and Maryk swims out to it with a tow line. At the same time, Willie gets an action dispatch but in the excitement, he puts it in his pocket and forgets about it. The captain chews out Maryk, and Willie doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between the two.
After that, Willie is trying to get the men to straighten out and he rides Meatball (Lee Marvin) and Lugatch aka ‘Horrible’ (Claude Akins). He gets a letter from May and is then called into the captain’s quarters. He is in trouble for not turning in the action dispatch. The dispatch says the captain is being relieved and they are getting a new captain, Lt. Commander Phillip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart).
The men give Captain DeVriess a going away present. Again, Willie doesn’t understand why they like the Captain so much. Captain Queeg calls an officer’s meeting. He tells him about his duty in the Atlantic and that he plans to run the ship by the book. When Queeg sees a sailor with his shirt tails out. He takes out a pair of ball bearings and begins fiddling with them. Queeg assigns Willie as the moral officer and to be in charge of enforcing regulations.
They are ordered to sea to tow targets for gunnery practice. During the firing, Willie is called to the bridge because Queeg has found a man with his shirt tail out. Queeg orders the ship to turn right and continues to chew the men out. The ship crosses over the tow line and cuts the target loose. Queeg won’t take responsibility for the accident. He blames a defective tow line.
The Caine gets orders to go back to San Francisco and Keefer thinks it is to punish the captain. May is waiting for Willie when he gets off the ship, but Willie is surprised by his mother. He introduces May to his mother as one of his friends. Willie and May head to Yosemite for the weekend. It kind of drags the movie but there is a nice scene of the fire fall. Apparently, they use to build a big fire on top of Glacier Point and then someone would yell “Let the fire fall” and they would push it over the edge and make a fire waterfall. The National Park Service ended this practice in 1968.
Apparently, after a fun night, May is on top of the world and Willie asks her to marry him. She turns him down say his mother won’t approve.
Queeg avoids getting into trouble about the tow line and the ship is sent back to sea to support the invasion of one of Pacific islands. Their job is to escort the landing crafts to 1000 yards from the beach. They throw in some actual footage that may be from Iwo Jima.
Queeg puts Willie in command of the ship even though he is inexperienced. Maryk takes over as the Captain waits in the wings. Lt. JG Jorgensen (James Best) is calling out the distance to the beach. When Maryk slows the ship to let the landing crafts catch-up Queeg panics. He says they are within 1000 yards and orders yellow die markers thrown off the back. This leaves the landing crafts unprotected as the Caine steams away at full speed.
The officers make up funny songs about yellow stain blues and start calling Queeg old yellow stain. Finally, Maryk comes by and orders them to stop mocking the captain. He also tells them that the captain wants another meeting. Queeg is humble as he plays with his ball bearings. He talks about his wife, kid, and dog. Much like Nixon’s Checkers speech. Queeg asks the officers to support him like a family. Maryk says they should have backed him up. Keefer and Willie don’t want to support him. Keefer starts saying the captain is mentally unbalanced. Maryk says there will be no more talk about mental illness. However, Keefer has planted the seed and Maryk begins recording information about the captain and reading about mental illness.
In July 1944, the ship gets a gallon of strawberries. At 1 AM all of the officers are called to the ward room to be part of a strawberry investigation. He has the mess staff (James Edwards) fill a gallon bucket with sand. As each officer tells how many he had, a scoop is ladled out. Queeg is convinced that someone is stealing food on the ship and has a key to the storage locker. The captain estimates a quart is missing. He places Maryk in charge but the board of review cannot find where the missing quart of strawberries has gone. In the morning, Queeg tells a story of his past glory when he caught a thief on board a ship when he was an ensign. He has the officers turn the ship upside down in a quest to find a key that doesn’t exist.
Keefer starts bringing up the mental illness to Maryk again. He even brings up article 184 where a subordinate commander may relieve his superior. Ens. Harding gets emergency leave because his wife is sick. But before he goes he tells the other officers that he saw the mess boys eat the strawberries. He says he told the captain, who then called him a liar and threatened to hold up his orders. This is the final straw and now Maryk wants to go see the Admiral of the Fleet along with Keefer and Willie. When they get to the flagship, Keefer backs out saying that this is the real Navy and they will not understand the Caine. All three go back without talking to the admiral.
As the three are leaving the flagship, the fleet gets notice of a typhoon. The order is for the fleet to sail through the storm at a specific heading. The storm is based on a real typhoon, Typhoon Cobra. Because of bad information, the entire fleet sailed directly into the storm resulting in almost 800 US deaths. Queeg does not want to take on ballast or increase speed, and he gets mad when he finds out that the depth charges have been put on safe. Queeg is slow to make commands and Maryk keeps making the correct orders. When one of the smoke stakes falls over, Queeg freaks. Maryk begins giving commands to the ship’s helmsman. When the captain and Maryk conflict, Maryk relieves him under article 184. Willie backs up Maryk. Keefer stands silent.
The ship makes it through the storm and Maryk and Willie are sent to San Francisco for trial. One bright spot in Willie’s life is that he hears from May. He pledges his undying love and she tells him it is over and done.
Maryk, Keefer, and Willie are in a conference room and Navy defense lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer) comes to interview them to see if they are worth defending. Greenwald has a broken right arm from an airplane crash. Right away, Greenwald takes a dislike to Keefer who is not on trial. Greenwald gets right to the point with Keefer and says he is just as guilty as Maryk and Willie. So Keefer leaves. Greenwald tells them that most lawyers don’t want to defend them and Maryk is either a fool or a mutineer.
Greenwald takes the case and the court-martial begins. Maryk’s trial goes first. The prosecutor is Lt. Comdr. Challee (E.G. Marshall). The first witness is Willie. They crush Willie on the stand by comparing his lack of experience as compared to the captain. The defense asks about the name old yellow stain. The board takes exception to calling the captain a coward.
Next, they bring in the helmsman. He doesn’t help either side. They then bring in Meatball. The prosecution makes Meatball look like a complainer, but Greenwald shows how much battle time he has had.
They bring in Keefer and he acts like he was not a part of it and throws it all at the feet of Maryk. He even goes as far as saying he is not an expert on mental illness. Keefer made it seem like it was Maryk’s idea to keep the book on the captain and go see the admiral. Greenwald doesn’t cross-examine.
They then bring in Naval doctor Dickson (Whit Bissell). He testifies that Queeg is sane. However, Greenwald breaks him down and forces him to admit that Queeg has a paranoia personality.
Maryk takes the stand in his defense. Challee gets Maryk to admit he is of average intelligence. He breaks him down on his lack of knowledge about mental illness. Maryk admits that he may be guilty.
Queeg is called in to testify and he is cool as a cucumber. Queeg states that he has bad officers and they attacked him. Greenwald asks about the cut tow line and the beach attack. Greenwald asks if Queeg abandoned the landing crafts during the attack. On objection, the board says that there is nothing worse than accusing an officer of cowardice. In a masterful statement, Greenwald says that no man that rises to the command of a ship can be a coward. He also shows glowing fitness reports that Queeg has written about Maryk.
Finally, Greenwald brings up the strawberries and the search for the key. Greenwald brings up that Ensign Harding told him that the mess boys ate the strawberries. He says Harding can be flown in. Queeg pulls out the iron balls and starts fidgeting with them. He begins to become agitated and starts making rapid fire statements about his innocence. Queeg regains his composure but keeps playing with the iron balls. The prosecutor and the board know Maryk was right in relieving Queeg. Maryk and Willie are found not guilty.
The officers of the Caine have a party to celebrate the acquittals. Willie is on the phone making up with May. She agrees to come marry him. Keefer shows up and Maryk says he didn’t think he would have the guts to come around after he betrayed him at the court martial.
Greenwald comes in and he is very drunk. He says he defended Maryk because the wrong man was on trial and he had to torpedo Queeg to save Maryk and he fills sick about it. Greenwald blames the officers because when Queeg asked for their help after the yellow stain incident and they refused to help.
Finally, he turns to Keefer and calls him the author of the Caine mutiny. He lets the other officers know that Keefer betrayed Maryk. Finally, Greenwald splashes a drink in Keefer’s face and delivers the great line – “If you want to do anything about I’ll be outside. I’m a lot drunker than you so it will be a fair fight.” The officers leave Keefer with his wet face alone.
May, Willie, and his mother arrive at the dock where Willie’s new ship is waiting. He finally can stand up to his mother and choose his own wife. When the new captain comes by it is Captain DeVriess. Willie goes to the bridge and the captain orders the now mature Keith to take the ship out. The movie ends as Willie issues sailing commands and May waits on the dock and the ship sails under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Van Johnson had a bad car crash while filming A Guy Named Joe (1943). Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne fought to keep the injured Johnson in the film until he recovered. This accident caused several large scars on his forehead. Most of the time, he covered these scars with make-up when filming. But for this film, he let the scar be shown to enhance his character.
In the close-ups of Humphrey Bogart in the courtroom, two scars can clearly be seen on his right upper lip. These scars came from World War I when a prisoner he was escorting hit him with his handcuffs. This gave Bogart the tight-lipped speaking style that he made famous.
World-Famous Short Summary – IT WAS the strawberries
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Beware the moors