9 October 2005 | theowinthrop
Ironically, our Navy's best remembered "mutiny"
Historically there were two great United States Naval mutinies. In 1842 a naval sloop, the U.S.S. Somers, had a court martial for three crew members (one, Midshipman Philip Spencer, was the son of Secretary of War John Canfield Spencer), which ended with their being found guilty and hanged. To this day there is debate if Spencer (a troubled youth) was even serious about seizing the "Somers". The other occurred in 1944 at Port Chicago, California, when, a few weeks after a terrible accident that killed many men loading ammunition on a boat, their replacements refused to work under existing unsafe conditions. This led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision - against the workers, who claimed they were not under military law.
But the best known mutiny in the American navy is that on the U.S.S. Caine, during the hurricane that preceded the battle of Okinawa. That this is a fictional mutiny does not seem to attract any attention. THE CAINE MUTINY was a successful novel, Broadway play ("THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL") and a great movie. It remains the American equivalent of the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty.
The performances of the leads, Bogart, Johnson, MacMurray (his second of three great heels), Ferrer, Tully, and E.G.Marshall are all first rate, as are the supporting cast (which includes Lee Marvin, Claude Atkins, and Jerry Paris - all of whom had quite substantial careers after this film). Only Robert Francis did not have a substantial career after his fine Ensign Keith - he died in a plane crash in 1955.
There are mental images from the film (mostly connected to Bogart's Queeg) that people remember - even spoof. Every time you see some character showing nervous ticks, if he or she pulls out a pair of small metal balls and roll them in their hand, it is a salute to Bogie's originally doing it in THE CAINE MUTINY. And his magnificent moment of success: "the strawberries", and how he proved the theft with geometric precision, remains a signal that the person speaking has too many fixations.
Interestingly, the film makes Queeg better (if still sick) than the play does. When cross examined by Greenwald at the court martial of Maryk and Keith, Queeg is asked about whether or not he overused his right to free transport of liquor and other items from Hawaii to the mainland from the navy. Queeg at first denies it, but when Greenwald says he can bring in (as witnesses) people connected with the sale of the items and the transport of them, Queeg suddenly remembers that he might have. This is not in the film, but it shows that Queeg was not all that clean an officer.
That aside, the impact of the film is still terrific half a century after it was shot. It illustrates that personality flaws frequently causes the problems that affect all of us, and that we need more understanding of each other's problems to avoid the bigger ones. From a case of over-extended battle fatigue, the crew of a warship are driven to accept an act of mutiny against it's captain in an emergency situation. And it almost gets two officers disgraced or hanged.