Directed by Edward Dmytryk
The Caine Mutiny is a 1954 American fictional Navy drama set in the Pacific during World War II. Directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Kramer, it stars Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray, and is based on The Caine Mutiny, the 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Herman Wouk. The film depicts the events on board a fictitious World War II U.S. Navy destroyer minesweeper and a subsequent mutiny court-martial.
The film premiered in New York City on June 24, 1954, and went into general release on July 28. Made on a budget of $2 million, it was the second-highest-grossing film of 1954, earning $8.7 million in theatrical rentals in the United States. It was the most successful of Kramer’s productions some of which had previously lost money, and put his entire production company as well as Columbia Pictures in the black.
The film got a major pre-release boost three weeks before its premiere when Bogart as Queeg appeared on the cover of the June 7, 1954 issue of TIME. The accompanying cover story (“Cinema: The Survivor”) praised Bogart’s portrayal of Queeg as “a blustering, secretive figure in Navy suntans, who brings the hollow, driven, tyrannical character of Captain Queeg to full and invidious life, yet seldom fails to maintain a bond of sympathy with his audience. He deliberately gives Queeg the mannerisms and appearance of an officer of sternness and decision, and then gradually discloses him as a man who is bottling up a scream, a man who never meets another’s eyes. In the courtroom scene, Bogart’s Queeg seems oblivious of his own mounting hysteria. Then, suddenly, he knows he is undone; he stops and stares stricken at the court, during second after ticking second of dramatic and damning silence.”
Director Edward Dmytryk felt The Caine Mutiny could have been better than it was and should have been three and a half to four hours long to fully portray all the characters and complex story, but Columbia’s Cohn insisted on a two-hour limit. Reviewing the film in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that the job of condensing Wouk’s novel to two hours had been achieved “with clarity and vigor, on the whole.” His reservations concerned the studio’s attempt to “cram” in “more of the novel than was required” such as the “completely extraneous” love affair between Keith and May Wynn that Crowther found to be a plot diversion that weakened dramatic tension. Although he doubted whether the novel had a structure suited for film, he noted that Roberts had “endeavored to follow it faithfully.” The result, he argued, was that the court-martial became “an anticlimax” as it repeated Queeg’s visible collapse seen in the typhoon but still considered the core of the film “smartly and stingingly played” and “though somewhat garbled” was still “a vibrant film.”
Herman Wouk had already adapted his novel as a stage play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which premiered on Broadway in January 1954 and ran for more than a year. The play was directed by Charles Laughton and was a critical as well as a commercial success.Wouk was initially selected to write the screenplay, but director Dmytryk thought his work was not successful. He replaced the novelist with Stanley Roberts, an experienced screenwriter. Roberts later quit the production after being told to cut the screenplay so the film could be kept to two hours. The 50 pages worth of cuts were made by Michael Blankfort, who received an “additional dialog” credit.
The film differs from the novel, which focused on the Keith character, who became secondary in the film. The film instead focuses on Queeg. Kramer “mollified the Navy” by modifying the Queeg characterization to make him less of a madman, as portrayed by Wouk, and more a victim of battle fatigue. Studios did not want to purchase the film rights to Wouk’s novel until cooperation of the U.S. Navy was settled. Independent producer Stanley Kramer purchased the rights himself for an estimated $60,000 – $70,000. The Navy’s reluctance to cooperate led to an unusually long pre-production period of fifteen months. Principal photography took place between June 3 to August 24, 1953 under the initial working title of Authority and Rebellion.
Casting and director
Stanley Kramer and Columbia Pictures intended to cast Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg. Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn knew Bogart wanted the part and took advantage of that fact, and Bogart eventually settled for much less than his usual $200,000 salary. “This never happens to Cooper or Grant or Gable, but always to me,” Bogart complained to his wife, Lauren Bacall.
Van Johnson was loaned to Columbia by MGM, where he was under contract. Being cast as Maryk was a breakthrough for the actor, who felt that he had been in a “rut” by being typecast in light rôles. During the filming of the scene off Oahu in which Maryk swims fully clothed to retrieve a line, his life was saved when a Navy rifleman shot a shark that was approaching Johnson. Lee Marvin was cast as one of the 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 American 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.
Before choosing Dmytryk for The Caine Mutiny, Kramer had hired the director for three low-budget films. He had previously been blacklisted, and the success of the film helped revive Dmytryk’s career.
The Caine Mutiny would be the first part in Robert Francis’s short four-film career as he was killed when the private plane he was piloting crashed shortly after take off from Burbank airport in California on July 31, 1955.