The Caine Mutiny

There are no real extras but The Caine Mutiny is a DVD you get for the fantastic performances. It is a most have for a serious collector.

The Caine Mutiny

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There seems to be a growing trend with movies for a film to try to foray into multiple genres. Usually the results are drastic; the plot tries too hard to be more than it ever should have aspired to. One film that succeeds where so many have failed is now almost fifty years old, The Caine Mutiny. Part romance, part war film and part courtroom drama this film holds its own with most of these genres.

The story is basically told from the point of view of Ensign Willis 'Willie' Seward Keith, a recent graduate of the Naval academy, born into the privilege afforded by rich parents. At the start of The Caine Mutiny it looks as though that even in spite of the raging war his future was pretty much secure. Then reality sets in. His girlfriend is a singer in a local bar, not a person ‘mother’ would approve of. Then Willie receives his first assignment aboard the Caine, a broken down minesweeper, part of the ‘junkyard navy’. The captain is the lackadaisical Captain Blakely (Warner Anderson). Willie also meets his fellow new Ensign Barney Harding (Jerry Paris), XO Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson) and communications office and aspiring writer Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray). When the captain is replaced by a career navy hard nose Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) things change on the Caine for the worse. Queeg begins by making some dubious decisions, chewing out a sailor for sloppy dress while permitting the Caine to cut it’s own tow line, he is a micro manager that is obsessed with picayune details while losing track of what is important. Instigated by Keefer, Maryk starts a log on the mental instability of the Captain. When the time comes to present their concerns to Admiral Keefer backs out and the others back down. The actions of Queeg become more worrisome, his behavior bordering on the dangerous. Certain someone stole some strawberries from the office’s mess he starts a witch-hunt disrupting the entire ship. Everything comes to a head during a brutal storm, Queeg all but freezes in the face of the dangerous weather. Prompted again by Keefer, in the most subtitle fashion, Maryk takes command of the Caine committing mutiny. The final act of The Caine Mutiny comes during the court marshal of the officers of the Caine. To defend them against the charges is Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) facing the lawyer chosen to prosecute Lt. Cmdr. Challee (E.G. Marshall). While there is no happy Hollywood ending here the story arc will keep you enthralled. We see here normally reasonable men drive to unreasonable actions. The young Ensign Keith is caught between a rock and a hard place added to by his romantic disappointments. War has taken its toll on the young man but not in the typical way most would expect.

The Caine Mutiny is a dream team cast. I cannot imagine assembling such talent today. Most people that grew up in the fifties and sixties will recognize MacMurray as the beloved father in the TV show My Three Sons. Most forget that MacMurray’s early career was mostly playing the heavies. Here he presents Keefer as the duplicitous writer, concerned more about selling a novel than the well being of those he serves with. He chides others into actions he himself would never take. Johnson is the perfect dupe for these plans. He is the likeable, albeit not too bright man that just wants to do what is best. The juxtaposition of these two men is brilliantly portrayed. Anderson as the young Ensign does a good job as the doe eyed innocent. The Caine Mutiny was his first film in a very short career. Still, he does the job of interjecting a naïve element into the plot, someone for the audience to root for. Ferrer does his typical excellent job of the lawyer that is disgusted by the actions of his clients but honor bound by his dual profession as military man and lawyer to do his best to get them off. It is easy to accept Marshall as the opposing counsel. His long running television drama, The Defenders, just extended this actor’s ability to play this type of a role. Then there is Bogart in one of the defining performances of a long career of excellence. The way he slowly immerses Queeg into the depths if instability, presenting a man that has made a career of the navy and yet is unable to rise further in its ranks. This character would have been a cartoon in less capable hands. With Bogart we are presented with a flawed human being under more pressure than we can imagine.

Directing this classic of American film was Edward Dmytryk. This man knew how to keep the all important pace of a film moving along. While some of the more romantic scenes may appear to drag they where integrated into The Caine Mutiny to show that the young Ensign already had a lot on his mind when he was thrust into the quagmire of life on the Caine. The framing of the scenes were well done but after viewing both a full screen and widescreen copy of the movie I have to say that not much is added to the content that is out of the 4:3 area. The lighting is typically good but there are some spots where the transition between light and dark scenes may have been handled a bit better. This was a difficult job, bringing the complex novel of Herman Wouk to the screen. Dmytryk was able to get some of the best performances out of this illustrious cast.

For a disc of an older film the DVD is excellent. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is for the most part excellent. There is some problem with the color balance, especially in the romantic moments in the beginning. There is also a slight lack of contrast most evident with heavily shadowed scenes. Over all, the video is extremely well done all things considered. The mono sound track is a little ‘tinny’, almost devoid of a bass line. It is an accurate reproduction of the original soundtrack and that is what is really important. There are no real extras but The Caine Mutiny is a DVD you get for the fantastic performances. The Caine Mutiny is a most have for a serious collector.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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