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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Last night I watched The Caine Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart and Fred MacMurray. It was shown on TCM’s Essentials series. The series, hosted by Rob Reiner, showcases movies that have had a profound impact on moviemaking—the movies that we as Americans should see. Or at least that’s the idea behind it. I like the idea, but I think their selections omit some really great movies. Such omissions are the nature of any selective list, I guess. TCM also justifies their selections with a short vignette.

I liked this movie, just as I liked A Few Good Men. It tells a tale of personal responsibility and independent judgement. The premise is that the captain, played by Bogart, of a minesweeper during World War II is a paranoiac, who gradually loses his grip on reality and threatens the safety of the ship. The officers of the ship become more and more despondent about their captain’s mental state, but put off ousting him for fear of the punishment for mutiny. In the duress of a typhoon that is taking the Caine apart, the captain turns inward and avoids any decisionmaking—holding firm to his orders even though his stance will sink the ship. The executive officer asserts his authority to depose the captain and guides the ship to safety. We find out that his swift action saved the Caine where two other ships caught in the same typhoon sunk.

The officers are prosecuted for conspiracy to mutiny once they reach land. The dramatic climax occurs when the captain gets caught up in his paranoia and launches into a lengthy tirade in front of the court, thereby confirming his mental unbalance. (Reiner notes that this scene was the inspiration for the “You can’t handle the truth” scene with Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.) The officers of the Caine could have shirked their moral responsibility and they wouldn’t have been held accountable by the Navy, which condones blind obedience. Instead, they took the bold move, fully aware of the potential repercussions.

The movie has faults, such as the insertion of a saccharine love story without much integration or necessity and the post-acquittal speech of the officers’ lawyer, but they are not terribly significant. Bogart, nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance, convincingly portrays the mental decline of the captain and really conveys the paranoid’s emotional state.