The Caine Mutiny: A New Reason to Appreciate A Classic

Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I’ve seen it once, long ago, though on the big screen at a rep house. Remember rep houses? It made a big impression.

    There is a similar plotline in Band of Brothers where David Schwimmer’s character, Herbert Sobel, did a good job (if not a popular one) training the company stateside, but then loses their confidence as he struggles with hesitation and anxiety during field exercises in England, in preparation for their eventual D-Day drop.

    The company’s sergeants, to a man, write a letter to the Colonel, expressing their lack of confidence in him. In parallel, Sobel tries to charge Lt. Winter (played by Damian Lewis) with a minor infraction and keep him on base all weekend. The charge is fabricated, and Winters decides to challenge it, and forces a court martial.

    The upshot is that the Colonel calls in all the sergeants, dresses them down for their lack of discipline and order, busts them all down a rank, and dismisses them. He then finds a new job for Sobel, and brings in a new commander for Easy Company. Winters clears his court martial easily.

    Unlike the Caine Mutiny, this really happened. I’m not confident that it happened exactly as depicted, but Sobel, Winters, and so on were real people who had something like this happen during WWII. It’s also where I first heard the phrase “we salute the uniform, not the man”.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I did read the book, although I don’t remember the specifics of that incident. That said, the book is pretty well researched. I think we can trust its accuracy, as much as we can trust any historical writing. Anyway, you can go check the book if you’re curious as to how it played out.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    You do know that Fred MacMurray was the lover in Double Indemnity as a young man, right?

    Relatedly Trump went on a twitter rant regarding Mutiny on the Bounty:

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Also based on the wiki photo from the 1930s, he was quite the looker:

  4. The book was great too.

    Its structure is similar to To Kill a Mockingbird’s. Both contain a trial which feel like the main story, but have a long stretch after the trial ends that resolves a character’s arc.Report

    • The book is a bit subtler. The scene Greenwald refers to, where the captain explicitly asks for his officers’ help, was new to the film. And Keefer has a legitimate reason to dislike Queeg; when the Caine docks next to Keefer’s brother Roland’s ship for a night, Queeg won’t let Keefer off OOD duty for a visit, mostly out of petty malice. Not long afterward, Roland is killed in a kamikaze attack.

      In other words, Queeq isn’t just a sick man who needs help; he’s am ill-intentioned tyrant. Whether that weakens Andrew’s point or strengthens it, I’ll leave up to the reader.Report

      • Those reasons, and others, is why I stuck to the movie version here because Queeg is treat really differently in the film, perhaps to fit Bogarts portrayal but also from what I read the Navy wanted more nuance for their own sakes. Report

      • I forget whether I read the book first, or saw the movie first, but I read/watched both for the first time within the last year or so.

        I like the book better (and you seem to, too, if I read you right). But….both the book and the movie seem to me too officer-class-centric. Maybe “too” is the wrong word. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to write about that class (or any class). And Wouk does a really good job situating that class-background. But I had a hard time identifying with the officer-class mentality.

        (Wouk seems to have a similar focus in Winds of War, which I’ve partially read the first half of.)Report

        • It seems to be a case of writing what he knew; he was a junior officer on destroyer minesweepers during WWII.

          Something I found interesting is that in both Wouk novels I’ve read, the creative/intellectual character is the villain. Here, Thomas Keefer the writer, in Marjorie Morningstar, Noel Airman the composer/playwright. (“Airman” is a play on the Yiddish word “luftmensch”, someone with his head in the clouds and unconcerned with mundane matters like earning a living.)Report

          • Mike Schilling, I’m not sure if you’re still following this thread, but I just returned to it. That’s an interesting observation, about the “intellectual character.” I’m working my way through Winds of War/War and Remembrance*, and the characterization of the Leslie Slote character seems on par with what you’re saying. However, he does (so far) have redeeming characteristics. (I’m projecting a bit. I saw the made-for-tv series and assume he makes the same choices in the novels, but I’m not at that point yet.)

            *He’s a great writer and it’s a great read, but I’m a slow reader. I can say Wouk’s an awesome writer.Report

  5. This is quite a thought-provoking analysis, Andrew. Thanks for writing it.

    I fear you’re right that crises, etc., do show our character.Report

  6. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    I’d forgotten how that plays out…

    Off topic, but watching the clip I was reminded that I knew men like that, men who had lived fought in WW2 and I knew them when they were in their prime… in their 40’s and 50’s. The past really is a different place.Report

  7. Avatar Rich says:

    Stands in contrast to CAPT Crozier from the recent USS Teddy Roosevelt incident.
    The Navy doesn’t mind their leaders being decisive (capricious) and authoritarian (tyrannical), but those traits are generally in the eye of the beholder.
    The movie exposed the caste system, officers versus enlisted, is not the only class distinction aboard ship or in the Navy writ large. Queeg (Bogard), despite the authority inherent in his rank and command of the ship, was up against the ship’s wardroom staffed by officers from the upper crust of society or multi-generational Navy offspring. Even in today’s Navy, this officer species marches to their own tune fully cognizant their promotion by Navy Personnel Command is not so dependent on a CO’s evaluation of their performance. They had ambitions and agendas separate from Queegs and in the movie well aware of his social status.

    Whatever truth or accuracy to the officer wardroom’s assessment of their commanding officer’s competency, the Navy determined those men, those officers were required to carry out their orders and duties correctly. None of their duties permits undermining the commanding officer or the function of the ship.

    In fact from a psychological perspective, The Caine Mutiny might damn well be a better portrayal of gaslighting and gangstalking than 1944s “Gaslight” starring Ingrid BergmanReport

  8. Avatar atomickristin says:

    One of my favorite movies ever. I was literally just thinking about it the night before you posted this!Report

  9. Avatar Fish says:

    Watched this for the first time because of this post (which I didn’t read until after I’d watched the move). That post-trial scene was everything I’d hoped for. I might disagree with Greenwald’s assertion that Queeg would have been better had his staff supported him–he may have been a combat veteran and a successful commander in the past, but past performance yadda yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to be offened about the enlisted being part of the backdrop because I was so busy marveling at how incredible this movie was.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing this movie to my attention, Andrew.Report

    • Andrew Donaldson Andrew Donaldson in reply to Fish says:

      So glad you enjoyed it.

      The lack of enlisted is something I might touch on as it’s pervasive, the supporting cast not even getting to be supporting cast. a notable modern example in my home is folks love those medical shows, where the main character doctors do all the imaging (techs do it in real life most of the time) and every single surgery known to man regardless of specialty.

      Of note, Lee Marvin as meatball in Caine is an amazing small role for him, and he was basically the technical advisor on the film as well.Report

  10. Avatar Christopher Murphy says:

    A couple of things. 1) In neither the novel nor the film is Maryk a newcomer to the Caine. 2) The speech about the Navy being “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots” is spoken by Keefer, not DeVriess, in both the novel and the movie. 3) The term is “foundering,” not floundering. 4) Thank you for a thought-provoking essay!Report