Friday, 23 December 2016

The Humphrey Bogart Blogathon: "The Caine Mutiny" (1954)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk, The Caine Mutiny (1954) begins in 1944, when Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis) is assigned to the dilapilated destroyer-minesweeper USS Caine, stationed at the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. The ship is under the command of the casual Captain William De Vriess (Tom Tully), who is soon replaced by the tyrannical Lieutenant Commander Francis Philip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart). At first, Queeg's strict discipline appears to be an improvement on the Caine's lax crew, but he quickly begins to behave erratically, displaying cowardice during a beachhead landing and drastically overreacting when strawberries go missing from the officers' mess.

As Queeg's mental condition worsens, Lieutenant Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) pushes the executive officer, Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (Van Johnson), to commit mutiny. When Queeg freezes in a typhoon, Maryk impulsively decides to relieve the captain of command, with the concurrence of Keith. After the Caine returns to San Francisco, both Maryk and Keith are brought up for a court-martial for their actions. Cynical Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer) is the only lawyer who grudgingly accepts their case. At the trial, Keefer denies ever observing signs of mental illness in Queeg or counseling Maryk to relieve him. Navy psychiatrist Lieutenant Commander Dickson (Whit Bissell) asserts that Queeg that is not mentally ill, but under Greenwald's probing admits that the captain suffers from deep paranoia due to long and arduous combat duty. Taking the stand, Queeg begins to exhibit such paranoid behavior, especially when Greenwald mentions the missing strawberries. In the face of Queeg's obvious instability, Maryk and Keith are acquitted. Afterwards, during a celebration with the Caine's officers, a drunken Greenwald berates them for not supporting Queeg and denounces Keefer as the real instigator of the Caine mutiny. Later, Keith is assigned to a new ship that turns out to be commanded by De Vriess.

Lieutenant Commander Francis Philip Queeg: Ah, but the strawberries! That's, that's where I had them.
A graduate of Columbia University, Herman Wouk joined the U.S. Navy following the surprise Japanese attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Assigned to the Pacific Theatre of World War II, he served aboard two destroyer-minesweepers, the USS Zane and the USS Southard, becoming executive officer of the latter. During his off-duty hours, Wouk began writing a novel, Aurora Dawn, which was well-received upon its publication in 1947. The following year, Simon & Schuster published his second book, City Boy, which was a commercial disappointment upon its initial release. Wouk later claimed that the reason for this was the excitement over Norman Mailer's best-selling World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, also published in 1948.
Undeterred by the failure of City Boy, Wouk set out to write his third novel. Drawing on his experiences abroad destroyer-minesweepers, he penned The Caine Mutiny, which dealt, among other things, with the moral and ethical decisions made at sea by captains of ships. Published by Doubleday in 1951, the book was a massive success, staying for nine months on the New York Times best-seller list. Three years later, Wouk turned the courtroom portion of his tale into a stage play called The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Directed by Charles Laughton, the play premiered at the Plymouth Theatre in New York in January 1954 and starred Henry Fonda, Lloyd Nolan and John Hodiak.

Van Johnson, Humphrey Bogart and Fred MacMurray
Shortly after the publication of The Caine Mutiny, producer Stanley Kramer purchased the screen rights to the novel and made a deal with Columbia Pictures to finance the picture. Kramer's purchase rested on the stipulation that the screen treatment would be subject to approval by the Navy. Wouk was initially selected to write the script, but he was eventually replaced by Stanley Roberts, an experienced screenwriter. Roberts later quit the production after being instructed to cut the screenplay so the film could be kept to two hours. The 50 pages worth of cuts were subsequently made by Michael Blankfort, who received an "additional dialogue" credit.
Upon reading the script for The Caine Mutiny, the Navy insisted that the film open with an epigraph that states that there has never been a mutiny in the U.S. Navy in exchange for the production's use of Pearl Harbor, planes, aircraft carriers, destroyers, combat boats, and the port in San Francisco. In fact, this was the only film made with the complete cooperation of the Navy for which they didn't want credit, only the opening disclaimer. The agreement was the result of heavy pre-production cajoling between the producers and the U.S. Navy. At first, the Navy was cool to the idea of lending support to The Caine Mutiny. Rear Admiral Robert Hickey, information chief of the Navy, wrote to the producers: "I believe your production would plant in the minds of millions the idea that life in the Navy is akin to confinement in a psychiatric institution." The Navy suggested several changes to the script, including a change of title to "The Caine Incident." In the end, the Navy's suggested changes were kept to a minimum and the final script was approved for shooting. The Navy's reluctance to cooperate led to an unusually long pre-production period of fifteen months.
Fred MacMurray, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Francis
Although Dick Powell campaigned heavily for the role of Francis Philip Queeg, Kramer had always intended to cast Humphrey Bogart as the mentally unstable captain. Bogart was enthusiastic about playing the part, but Columbia head Harry Cohn did not want to pay him his top salary. The actor was rather miffed at this, complaining to his wife Lauren Bacall, "This never happens to Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or Clark Gable, but always to me. Why does it happen to me? Damn it, Harry knows I want to play it and will come down in my price rather than see them give it to somebody else." And so he did, settling for much less than his customary $200,000.

For the role of Lt. Stephen Maryk, Kramer borrowed Van Johnson from MGM, where he was under contract. Johnson had read the book and was ecstatic at the chance to break out of his "boy-next-door" mold and play a complex, forceful character. "A role like Maryk after all these years!" he said when Kramer offered him the part. " Believe me, I'm grateful. Nobody can say it wasn't time for a change." Johnson knew that the roles he had been given in recent years at Metro were flimsy and one-dimensional. He had been typecast for so long that he feared he might have lost the ability to stretch as an actor. Yet Kramer seemed confident that Johnson could play a demanding, introspective part. "I was in a rut," Johnson said. "Stanley Kramer saved my life."

Van Johnson, Robert Francis and Fred MacMurray
To play Lt. Tom Keefer, Kramer hired Fred MacMurray, who was in need of a distraction following his wife's recent death. Kramer also cast Lee Marvin as one of the Caine's 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 America's 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. To direct The Caine Mutiny, Kramer engaged Edward Dmytryk, a victim of the Hollywood anti-communist blacklist and one of the original "Hollywood Ten," a group of directors, producers and screenwriters who were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activites Committee regarding Communist influences in the film industry. Kramer and Dmytryk had collaborated three times before - in The Sniper (1952), Eight Iron Men (1952) and The Juggler (1953).

The Caine Mutiny premiered at the Capitol Theatre in New York on June 24, 1954 and went into general release on July 28. Made on a budget of $2 million, it became the second highest-grossing film of the year, earning $8.7 million at the box-office. Critical reviews were generally positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "a vibrant film," while Variety described it as a "highly recommendable motion picture drama." At the 27th Academy Awards held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in March 1955, The Caine Mutiny received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Tully), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing and Best Dramatic Score. Bogart lost to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront (1954), which also won Best Picture, Screenplay and Film Editing.


This post is my contribution to The Humphrey Bogart Blogathon hosted by Sleepwalking in Hollywood and Musings of a Classic Film Addict. To view all entries, click HERE.


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