Vintage Movies: “The Caine Mutiny”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


The Caine Mutiny (1954, 125 minutes)

Escaping the clutches of a possessive mother, Ensign Willis “Willie” Keith (Robert Francis) has been assigned as a junior officer to the Caine, a beaten-up minesweeper after two years of heavy combat in the South Pacific during World War II.

The Caine’s skipper, Lt. Commander William DeVriess (Tom Tully), reviewing Keith’s file with a jaundiced eye, remarks, “Top five in your class at Princeton, a pretty good record.” He looks the new man squarely in the eye and asks, “Disappointed they’ve assigned you to a minesweeper, Keith?” The ensign says, “To be honest, yes, sir.” DeVriess replies, “You saw yourself on a carrier or a battleship, no doubt?” “Yes sir, I had hoped … ” DeVriess cuts him off, “Well, my only hope is that you’re good enough for the Caine.”

The captain sighs and sinks back into his chair. “This is a beaten-up tub, not a battleship. After the last 18 months of combat, it takes 24 hours a day just to keep her in one piece.” Keith sticks out his jaw and says, “I understand, sir. I’ll try to be worthy of this assignment.” The captain barely shakes his head and replies, “I don’t think you do, but whether you like it or not, you’re in the junkyard navy.” He turns to the officer escorting Keith and says, “Steve, put him with Keefer in communications, and tell Tom, when he’s free, to show this Princeton Tiger around the ship. And don’t take it so hard, Keith: War is hell.”

At the next officers’ mess, the skipper turns to his new man and asks, “Tell me, Keith, now that you’ve studied the Caine more closely, do you like her any better? Or is this ship too messy for you?” Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) chimes in: “The question is, is this mess a ship? We are all sentenced to do penance on this outcast ship, named for the greatest outcast of them all,” he adds, referring to the biblical tale of Cain who killed his brother, Abel.

The captain interrupts, “I received this dispatch from Admiral Walsh, about an hour ago.” He reads, “‘With your approval, we request the transfer to my staff of Ensign Willis Seward Keith.'” Shocked, Keith blurts out, “Sir, I didn’t know anything about this request!” The skipper says, “It could be just a coincidence, or it could be someone pulling strings. So, what’s it to be, Keith, the Admiral’s staff or, as Tom puts it, ‘the hell of the Caine?'” Keith gulps hard and says, “I’ll stay on board, sir.” Keefer quips, “Ahh, Willie, you will live to regret this day.” With the imminent retirement of Capt. DeVriess and the arrival of the intractable new skipper, Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), they will all live to regret more than just today.