The Caine Mutiny (film)

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The Caine Mutiny
Mutiny 0.jpg
original film poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by Stanley Roberts
Michael Blankfort
Based on The Caine Mutiny 
by Herman Wouk
Starring Humphrey Bogart
José Ferrer
Van Johnson
Fred MacMurray
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Franz Planer
Edited by Henry Batista
William A. Lyon
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • June 24, 1954 (1954-06-24) (US)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]
Box office $21,800,000[2]

The Caine Mutiny is a 1954 American drama film set during World War II, directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Kramer. It stars Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray, and is based on The Caine Mutiny, the 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Herman Wouk. The film depicts a mutiny aboard a fictitious World War II U.S. Navy destroyer minesweeper, the USS Caine (DMS-18), and the subsequent court-martial of two officers.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Tully), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording (John P. Livadary), Best Film Editing, and Best Dramatic Score (Max Steiner).[3] It was the second highest-grossing film in the United States in 1954.[4]

Dmytryk was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.


Callow, rich Ensign Willis Seward "Willie" Keith (Robert Francis) reports for duty aboard the Caine, his first assignment. Homeported in Pearl Harbor, he is disappointed to find the Caine to be a small, battle-scarred destroyer-minesweeper. Its gruff captain, Lieutenant Commander William H. DeVriess (Tom Tully), has almost completely discarded discipline, and the crew has become slovenly and superficially undisciplined – although their performance is excellent. Keith has already met the executive officer, Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (Van Johnson), and is introduced to the communications officer, Lieutenant Thomas Keefer (Fred MacMurray), a novelist in civilian life. Keith has an opportunity to transfer off the ship for a more glamorous command, but decides to stay aboard. However, Keith remains frustrated with the ship's lack of discipline, despite his own shortcomings.

The captain is soon replaced by Lieutenant Commander Phillip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a no-nonsense career veteran. He quickly attempts to instill discipline into the crew but soon displays erratic behavior. He regularly clicks a pair of steel ball bearings in his hands. At first, Keith is elated to have a strict commander.

The next day, the Caine is assigned to tow a target for gunnery practice. Queeg is distracted berating Keith and Keefer over a crewman's appearance after giving an order to turn, and he cuts off the helmsman's attempt to warn him that they are turning back on their own towline. After the Caine continues in a circle and cuts the towline, Queeg tries to cover up his responsibility for the incident.

Other incidents serve to undermine Queeg's authority. Under enemy fire, Queeg abandons escorting a group of landing craft during an amphibious assault long before they reach the fiercely defended shore, instead dropping a yellow dye marker in the water and leaving the landing craft to fend for themselves, much to the crew's disgust. Afterward, Queeg speaks to his officers, not explicitly apologizing, but bending enough to ask for their support. His disgruntled subordinates do not respond.

When strawberries go missing from the officers' mess, the captain—once again clicking the bearings—goes to absurd lengths to hunt down the culprit. Despite being told by one of his officers that the mess staff had eaten the fruit, Queeg insists on believing otherwise. He relates a story to Maryk and Keefer of when he, as an ensign, was commended for unmasking a cheese thief.

Keefer begins trying to convince Maryk that he should relieve Queeg on the basis of mental illness under Article 184 of Navy Regulations. At first Maryk displays loyalty to Queeg, even threatening Keefer with a charge of insubordination. Maryk begins keeping a journal, documenting Queeg's behavior. Keefer convinces Maryk and Keith to join him in presenting the case to Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.. While aboard Halsey's flagship, Keefer realizes that Queeg's documented actions could be interpreted as reasonable attempts to instill discipline, leaving the officers open to a charge of conspiring to mutiny. When Halsey's aide tells the Caine officers that Halsey will see them, Keefer talks Maryk and Keith out of making the complaint.

Matters come to a head during a violent typhoon. Maryk urgently recommends that they steer into the waves and take on ballast, but Queeg refuses to deviate from the fleet-ordered heading and declines Maryk's request for ballast. He fears that it would foul the fuel lines with salt water. When Queeg appears to become paralyzed in action, Maryk relieves him, with Keith's support.

José Ferrer as Lieutenant Barney Greenwald.

Upon returning to port, Maryk and Keith face a court-martial for mutiny. After questioning them and Keefer, Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer) reluctantly accepts the job of Maryk's defense counsel, which a number of other lawyers have already turned down.

The proceedings do not go well, as Keefer has carefully covered himself and denies any complicity. Navy psychiatrist Dr. Dixon (Whit Bissell) testifies that Queeg is not mentally ill, but when Queeg is called to testify, he exhibits paranoid behavior and begins to click the ball bearings together in his hand under Greenwald's tough cross-examination. Maryk is acquitted, and Keith is spared any charges.

The Caine officers celebrate the trial's results at a hotel. Keefer shows up, telling Maryk privately he did not have the guts not to. Greenwald appears and clears his "guilty conscience". Apparently drunk, he berates the officers for not appreciating the years of danger and hardship endured by Queeg, a career Navy man. He lambastes Maryk, Keith, and finally Keefer, for not supporting their captain when he most needed it. Under his attack, Maryk and Keith admit that if they had given Queeg the support he had asked for, he might not have "frozen" during the typhoon.

Greenwald turns to Keefer, denouncing him as the real "author" of the mutiny, who "hated the Navy" and manipulated the others while keeping his own hands officially clean. The lawyer exposes Keefer's double-dealing to the other officers, throws a glassful of champagne in his face and tells Keefer that if he wishes to do anything about the drink in the face, the two could fight outside. Keefer does not respond to the challenge and the other officers depart, leaving him alone in the room.

A few days later, Keith has received his promotion to Lieutenant, junior grade and reports to his new ship. He is surprised to find he is serving again under DeVriess, who has been promoted to Commander. DeVriess lets Keith know that he will start with a clean slate.


Cast notes

  • The Caine Mutiny would be the second role in Robert Francis's short four-film career. On 31 July 1955, he was killed when the private plane he was piloting crashed shortly after take off from Burbank airport in California.


Casting and director[edit]

Richard Widmark was originally intended to play Queeg, but producer Stanley Kramer opted for Humphrey Bogart instead. (Widmark later played Captain Finlander in The Bedford Incident.) It took a while to get Bogart; although he very much wanted to play the part, Columbia was not willing to pay the actor his usual top salary. Bogart commented about this to his wife, Lauren Bacall: "This never happens to Cooper or Grant or Gable, but always to me."[5] During shooting, Bogart was already suffering from the earliest symptoms of the throat cancer that would eventually kill him. Bogart had served in World War I as a Petty Officer in the US Navy, as Chief Quartermaster of the USS Leviathan.[6]

Lee Marvin was cast as one of the sailors, not only for his acting, but also because of his knowledge of ships at sea. Marvin had served in the U.S. Marines from the beginning of American involvement in World War II through the Battle of Saipan, in which he was wounded. As a result, he became an unofficial technical adviser for the film.[5]

Actor José Ferrer appeared in three films for producer Kramer; first was Cyrano de Bergerac, then Mutiny, to be followed by Ship of Fools, the only one directed by Kramer.

Before choosing Edward Dmytryk for The Caine Mutiny, Kramer had hired the director for three low-budget films. The success of Mutiny helped revive Dmytryk's career. For refusing to answer questions in 1947 about his ties to the American Communist Party to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, he was cited for contempt of Congress and spent time in prison as one of the Hollywood Ten and was blacklisted. In 1951 Dmytryk chose to testify to HUAC about his brief Party past, as well as pressure by other party members to put Communist propaganda into his films. In a second appearance before the House Committee, he identified 26 Party members. This allowed him to work again in the film industry.


Herman Wouk had already adapted his novel as a stage play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which premiered on Broadway in January 1954 and ran for a year.[7] He was initially selected to do the screenplay, but director Dmytryk thought his work was not successful. He replaced the novelist with Stanley Roberts, an experienced screenwriter. Roberts later quit the production after being told to cut the screenplay so the film could be kept to two hours. The 50 pages worth of cuts were made by Michael Blankfort, who received an "additional dialog" credit.[5]

Differences from novel[edit]

The character and background of Ensign Keith are more thoroughly explored in the novel, including midshipman school and his early relationship with his girlfriend May Wynn. After the court-martial, he returns to the Caine. He is seen to develop into a mature, competent Naval officer, which the film only suggests.

In the novel, Captain Queeg is roughly thirty years old at the time of the mutiny. Bogart was fifty-five at the time of filming, and the script gave him backstory to try to fill in the years. In the original novel and stage play, Greenwald is characterized as Jewish, who more than the other officers believed in the Navy's importance in keeping the German Nazis far from America. His beliefs contributed to his sympathy for Queeg and contempt for the junior officers who simply signed on for the duration of the war.

Navy involvement[edit]

The Navy initially objected both to the portrayal of a mentally unbalanced man as the captain of one of its ships and the word "mutiny" in the film's title. After the script was altered, the Navy cooperated with Columbia Pictures by providing ships, planes, combat boats, and access to Pearl Harbor and the port of San Francisco for filming. Following the opening credits, the epigraph states that the film's story is non-factual. It notes there has not been a ship named USS Caine, and no Navy captain has been relieved of command at sea under Articles 184–186: "There has never been a mutiny in a ship of the United States Navy. The truths of this film lie not in its incidents, but in the way a few men meet the crisis of their lives."

The Caine was represented by the US Navy destroyer minesweepers USS Doyle and USS Thompson. Although the Caine was described in the novel as being a four-stack World War I-era ship, by the time the film was made, all such vessels had been scrapped. Admiral Halsey's unnamed flagship was represented by the USS Kearsarge, a post-war aircraft carrier launched in 1946; a number of World War II–era fighter planes were placed atop the flight deck for the filming. USS Jacob Jones (the USS Jones of the Caine '​s commissioning plaque) had a similar fate in World War I. The Jacob Jones commanding officer, David Worth Bagley survived the sinking of his ship. The ship that Willis Keith conns out of port at the end of the film was the USS Richard B. Anderson.


Studios did not want to purchase the film rights to Wouk's novel until cooperation of the U.S. Navy was settled.[8] Independent producer Stanley Kramer purchased the rights himself for an estimated $60,000 – $70,000. The Navy's reluctance to cooperate led to an unusually long pre-production period of fifteen months. The Caine Mutiny went into production from 3 June to 24 August 1953, under the initial working title of Authority and Rebellion.[9]

Location shooting took place at Royce Hall at the University of California, Los Angeles; at Naval Station Treasure Island in San Francisco; Pearl Harbor, on Oahu in Hawaii, and at Yosemite National Park in California. The latter was the setting of the Yosemite Firefall and Keith's romantic interlude with May Wynn while on leave.


This was the last of a number of Bogart films scored by composer Max Steiner, mostly for Warner Bros. The main theme was included in RCA Victor's collection of classic Bogart film scores, recorded by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

The lyrics of the song, "Yellowstain Blues," which mocked Queeg's perceived cowardice during the landing incident, were written by Herman Wouk. They were drawn from The Caine Mutiny, the novel on which the film was based.


The original soundtrack album for The Caine Mutiny was never officially released, and is very rare. Perhaps a dozen copies survive. RCA Records planned an LP release with musical excerpts on the first side and the complete dialogue of the climactic court-martial scene on side two. But Herman Wouk believed that including this scene was an infringement on his recently opened Broadway play dealing with the court-martial. He threatened to prohibit Columbia Pictures from making any further adaptations of his work. According to Wouk, "[Columbia head Harry] Cohn looked into the matter, called me back, and said in his tough gravelly voice, 'I've got you beat on the legalities, but I've listened to the record and it's no goddamn good, so I'm yanking it.'"[10] In October 2012 a copy sold on eBay for over $6,000.[11]


The film premiered in New York City on 24 June 1954, and went into general release on July 28. It cost an estimated $2 million to make. This film was a box office success and the second-highest grossing film of 1954, earning $8.7 million in theatrical rentals in the United States.[4] The #1 box office hit of that year was White Christmas, which earned $12 million in rentals.[12]

Director Edward Dmytryk felt The Caine Mutiny could have been better than it was. He thought the movie should have been three and a half to four hours long to fully portray all the characters and complex story, but Columbia's Harry Cohn had insisted on a two-hour limit.[5]

In the 54 Best Legal Films of all-time,[13] The Caine Mutiny received one vote.

Awards and honors[edit]

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart, losing to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Tully), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording (John P. Livadary), Best Film Editing, and Best Dramatic Score (Max Steiner).[3]

Dmytryk was also nominated for a Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.

American Film Institute Lists


On actors[edit]

  • When Maurice Micklewhite first became an actor he adopted the stage name "Michael Scott". He was later told by his agent that another actor was already using the same name, and that he had to come up with a new one immediately. Speaking to his agent from a telephone box in Leicester Square in London, Micklewhite looked around for inspiration, noted that The Caine Mutiny was being shown at the Odeon Cinema, and adopted the name Michael Caine. Caine has often joked in interviews that, had he looked the other way, he would have ended up as "Michael One Hundred and One Dalmatians."[19]

In television[edit]

  • The British science-fiction sitcom Red Dwarf is about a huge spaceship which is run by a bumbling, possibly senile, computer called Holly. In one episode, Holly is apparently replaced by a back-up computer called Queeg. Whereas Holly is sloppy and easy-going, Queeg is ruthless, authoritarian and by-the-book, bringing misery to the lives of the crew, in ways similar to Bogart's character.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles Tranberg, Fred MacMurray: A Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2014
  2. ^ Box Office Information for The Caine Mutiny. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013
  3. ^ a b "The 27th Academy Awards (1955) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  4. ^ a b 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  5. ^ a b c d Scott McGee "The Caine Mutiny" (TCM article)
  6. ^ Frank O. Braynard, Leviathan, New York: South Street Seaport Museum (1972)
  7. ^ IBDB "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial"
  8. ^ TCM Notes
  9. ^ TCM Overview: The Caine Mutiny, Turner Classics Movies (TCM)
  10. ^ "General Music Collecting FAQs". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 22. ISBN 0-87196-313-2. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  15. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  16. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  17. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  18. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  19. ^ "Michael Caine (I)". The Guardian (London). 1998-11-06. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  20. ^ Nelson, Erik (2012-07-23). "Vince Gilligan: I’ve never Googled "Breaking Bad"". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  21. ^ rockknj on 03/23/09 at 6:35PM. "Terminator, "Today is the Day, Part 2": Never trust a captain named Queeg". Retrieved 2009-05-02. 

External links[edit]