The Caine Mutiny
Based on Herman Wouk’s novel, naval officers talk about replacing their paranoid captain, and during a crisis one of them does so and is tried for mutiny.
During World War II Willie Keith (Robert Francis) graduates from a Naval academy. His girlfriend May Wynn (May Wynn) sings in a nightclub, and he apologizes that he had to have dinner with his parents. He says he loves her, and she asks if he will marry her and then walks out. At the dock his mother (Katherine Warren) says goodbye to Willie.
Ensign Keith goes on board the Caine and meets Lt. Tom Kiefer (Fred MacMurray), Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), and Captain DeVriess (Tom Tully). Keith admits he is disappointed to be assigned to a mine-sweeper. Kiefer shows Keith and Ensign Barney Harding (Jerry Paris) around the ship and tells them to climb the mast. At lunch the officers lament being on the Caine. DeVriess has a letter requesting that Keith be on an admiral’s staff, and he asks Keith what he wants to do. Keith says he will stay on board.
They do a mine-sweeping drill. When they drop equipment, Maryk dives in to retrieve it. Keith falls in. Kiefer is writing a novel. The captain reprimands Keith for misplacing an action dispatch. Keith says that discipline is lacking on the ship.
Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) replaces DeVriess, who offers to stay on a couple days; but Queeg declines. Meatball (Lee Marvin) gives DeVriess a watch as a gift from the men. Queeg meets with the officers and says he goes by the book. Queeg appoints Keith to be the morale officer and tells him to make sure shirt-tails are tucked in and that haircuts are regulation.
During an exercise Queeg blames Keith because a man has his shirt-tail out. Queeg also blames Kiefer and tells him there will be no more novel writing. Queeg ignored the pilot while the ship goes around in a circle and cuts its tow-line. Queeg has Kiefer send a message to pick up or destroy the tow-line so they won’t be late. Queeg apologizes to Keith.
Kiefer tells Keith they are going back to San Francisco because Queeg is in trouble. Keith is met by his mother, and he introduces her to May. Keith tells his mother that he is going away for a weekend with May. They go horse-back riding in Yosemite. In the evening they kiss. In the morning Keith asks May to marry him. She says no because his mother won’t approve.
Queeg tells the officers a bad report was made about him. He says they will participate in a great invasion. Maryk stops the engines and blames Keith. Queeg tells Maryk they are to go full speed ahead, and the landing craft will follow them. Again Maryk tries to slow them down. Queeg objects and says they are within a thousand yards of the beach. He orders yellow die markers and turns the ship around. Kiefer asks Maryk if he is running away.
Officers sing about “Old Yellow Stain,” and Maryk tells them not to call Queeg that. At a meeting Queeg says a ship is like a family, and he hopes they can help each other. Queeg asks for medicine for his headaches. Maryk says Queeg’s nerves are shot, but Kiefer says he is psychologically imbalanced and paranoid. Maryk tells them not to talk about that anymore. Maryk reads a book and starts a log because the commander may be mentally disturbed.
Queeg stops a movie western and says there will be no more movies for thirty days. Queeg runs a general drill and insists on battle gear. He bans liberty for all for three months.
Queeg calls a meeting at 1 a.m. and says that strawberries were stolen. He asks how much each man ate and has it measured. Queeg asks them to find out who took the missing quart of strawberries. They find out nothing, but Queeg says someone must have made a key. Kiefer shows Maryk Article 184 that allows the removal of a superior officer. Everyone is searched for the key. Harding is leaving and tells Kiefer, Maryk, and Keith that there is no key because he saw the mess boys eating the strawberries. Maryk asks Kiefer and Keith to go see Admiral Halsey with him. On the aircraft carrier Kiefer says that they won’t be believed. Maryk asks Kiefer if he is scared, and Kiefer admits he is.
During a storm Queeg refuses to take on ballast. Kiefer ordered the depth charges put on safe, and Queeg objects. Maryk says they need to maneuver, but Queeg denies they are in trouble. Maryk tells Queeg to back the starboard engines, but Queeg says nothing. Maryk gives orders. Queeg warns him he will order him off the bridge. Maryk invokes Article 184 and takes command. Keith backs up Maryk. Queeg warns them they will hang for mutiny.
In port Keith gets a call from May in New York. He says he regrets not marrying her in a beautiful place. Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) tells Maryk and Keith that he may be their lawyer. Kiefer is there as a friend and says Queeg is paranoid. Greenwald says three psychiatrists will testify that Queeg is sane. Kiefer goes out. Maryk says it was his decision and asks Greenwald to take the case. He agrees.
In the trial Lt. Commander Challee (E. G. Marshall) prosecutes Maryk. He questions Keith, who says the ship was foundering. Keith says Queeg was not in possession of his faculties. Keith says Queeg blamed men for his mistakes and rode them too hard; he admits he hates Queeg. Kiefer testifies that he could not answer a question about Queeg’s mental illness because he is not a psychiatrist. Kiefer says that he did not approve of Maryk’s action. Maryk tells his lawyer that Kiefer is lying, but Greenwald does not cross-examine Kiefer. A psychiatrist testifies that Queeg was under strain from much combat duty and that he has a paranoid personality. Maryk testifies that Queeg was mentally ill and that he had to take over. Challee’s cross-examination shows that Maryk knows very little about psychology. Queeg testifies that he wanted to bring a bad ship into line. He denies the ship was foundering in the typhoon. Greenwald asks if Queeg cut his tow-line and if he dropped a yellow dye-marker to leave the troops on their own. Queeg reads his fitness report on Maryk. Queeg admits he conducted a search for a key but tries to deny that Harding told him the mess boys ate the strawberries. Queeg rambles on about the strawberries while he rolls marble balls in his hand.
The officers are celebrating, and Kiefer thanks Maryk for not telling others what happened. On the phone Keith says he loves May. Greenwald comes in drunk and speaks in defense of Queeg, and he accuses Kiefer of being a coward and the author of the Caine mutiny, splashing his drink on Kiefer’s face.
At the dock Keith kisses May goodbye and finds that DeVriess is back as captain.
This war drama portrays various personalities interacting. A young officer in love provides a new perspective on a ship that seems to lack discipline but then suffers much worse from a mentally unstable captain who tries to instill perfection. The officer who suggests removing the captain and gives the psychological explanation gets scared and even lies in court about his real role, showing another form of cowardice and betrayal.