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Movie Reviews

The Caine Mutiny  

Humphrey Bogart appears, in my view, to be a special breed of movie star. While the vast majority of the classic film stars, such as James Stewart or John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn, were required to be heroic, sympathetic, or likeable, Bogart took a number of risks. While he certainly was capable of presenting himself as a romantic lead (Casablanca) or a cool hero type (The Big Sleep), Bogart also strayed into rougher waters, seemingly without concern for his image. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre had him play the most greedy and treacherous of the gold prospectors, and is killed off most ruthlessly before the end of the picture. The fact that Bogart remained firmly in the higher levels of esteem even after such a role might show that he knew exactly what he was doing.

The Caine Mutiny was another bold move for Bogart. It certainly contains his most peculiar role, that of Captain Queeg, the eccentric leader of the Navy ship called the Caine. Queeg arrives on the scene after the previous captain is taken off-duty, from a ship which by all accounts is a useless rust-bucket, containing a crew which is almost as sloppy. Queeg appears to be the polar opposite of the last leader; he presents himself as a take-charge kind of man, the sort who demands respect and authority. As he tells his crew: "There`s the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way. Do it my way, and we`ll get along just fine." Sounds great -- but then things begin to seem not quite right.

Queeg begins to behave very strangely. He demands perfection, which is fine, yet it gets to the point where serious things occur because he is too busy yelling at someone for not having their shirt tucked in correctly to actually notice them. And later on, he gets into a serious tiff with the rest of the crew for what apparently are stolen strawberries. And he has a very peculiar habit of spinning two marbles in his hand whenever he gets particularly nervous or disturbed. The crew can no longer trust him, and so they use a little practised Navy rule which allows one of the officers to relieve the captain of his duties if the captain is unstable, and if there is no other way for the Navy to be informed of the problem at hand. This occurs in a scene, during a vicious storm at sea, which is a classic of intensity. Yet the result is that Queeg accuses these officers of mutiny.

Bogart`s character is a pretty twisted individual, but there is another crew member who is just as twisted in his own way. That is the character played by Fred MacMurray, the officer who originally brings up the notion of insanity in Queeg. MacMurray`s character is a bookish, literate, and utterly elitist sort, who despises everything about the Navy, and may have his own personal reasons for instigating a mutiny. Bogart and MacMurray are both amazing presences, and it is really neat to see MacMurray, who most know from his many Disney comedies, playing such a cunning character. In fact, he is a fairly menacing actor -- he was, believe it or not, in Double Indemnity, the original erotic thriller, and he certainly didn`t resemble Uncle Walt`s values in any way! Here, he plays a character who is entirely, if subtly, unsympathetic, for his arrogance cuts through the atmosphere of pure instability, and may also reveal a lot more than just his education. Despite that problem, I certainly could connect with him, as I, too, am a snobbish, elitist prick who would certainly rather write a novel than serve in the Navy!!!

The final scenes of both these central characters is to see these individuals stripped raw, right to the core of their ultimately weak souls.

Overall, this is a strong film, with an unusual look at the military, and with many moral dilemmas. Not being a war expert, I was probably too detached from the situation to give this the full rating - but the film is still worth the view, especially with Humphrey Bogart and Fred MacMurray leading the way.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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