Caine Mutiny, the (1954)

Caine Mutiny, the (1954)

“A captain’s job is a lonely one; he’s easily misunderstood.”

During World War II, a Naval minesweeper captain (Tom Tully) is replaced by a strict new captain (Humphrey Bogart) who quickly exhibits signs of extreme mental strain. When a lieutenant (Fred MacMurray) tries to warn his colleagues that Captain Queeg (Bogart) is paranoid, at first the ship’s executive officer (Van Johnson) doesn’t believe him — but soon Johnson and a new recruit (Robert Francis) are worried enough about Queeg’s competence that they take a drastic step.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Cowardice
  • Edward Dmytryk Films
  • E.G. Marshall Films
  • Fred MacMurray Films
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Mutiny
  • Ruthless Leaders
  • Sailors
  • Van Johnson Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary isn’t a big fan of this adaptation of “Herman Wouk’s exciting novel” about a commander (Bogart) who had “been a hero, but too much combat has had an effect on his mind” and thus “he suffers from acute paranoia,” “drives the men too hard,” and “even conducts a full-scale investigation to determine who pilfered a quart of strawberries.”

Peary argues that the “picture seems more concerned not to hurt the image of the Navy than to condemn Queeg, or to probe the military mentality and suggest that his phobias are not rare among military leaders.” He further adds that “the direction by Edward Dmytryk is stagy — one never feels that the men are actually on a ship in mid-ocean.”

I disagree with Peary’s sentiments. While the studio-mandated inclusion of an insipid romance between Francis and his singer-girlfriend (May Wynn) is an annoying waste of screentime:

… the rest of the storyline plays out in an engaging and suspenseful fashion. MacMurray gets to play one of his anti-nice-guy roles as an aspiring novelist who means well with his armchair analysis of Queeg, but ends up (arguably) causing harm:

… while Johnson is solid as an uneducated but savvy officer, and Jose Ferrer is nicely cast as a lawyer who openly wishes he were defending someone other than Johnson and Francis, but steps up to the task.

However, it’s Bogart’s Oscar-nominated performance which really holds one’s attention, especially during the riveting final courthouse sequence.

Bogart’s Queeg is a complicated character, as are the others around him — and I appreciate the culminating sequence in which the courtroom verdict is complexified even a bit further. By the end of this film, we definitely understand that leading is hard, and that knowing what to do under extraordinary circumstances is rarely straightforward.

Note: Watch for former-Marine Lee Marvin in a small role as a lieutenant nicknamed “Meatball”:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg
  • Jose Ferrer as Lt. Greenwald
  • Van Johnson as Lt. Maryk
  • Fred MacMurray as Lt. Keefer

Must See?
Yes, as a good show with a strong performance by Bogart.


  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Caine Mutiny, the (1954)

  1. A once-must, for Bogart’s performance.

    This isn’t a film I’m drawn to return to but I’ve seen it at least twice – and Bogart certainly drives it. It’s rather a pathetic role and, though that’s a challenge, it must also hold a particular difficulty since the character is so unlikable. But Bogart goes whole-hog with it, making it memorable.

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