The Caine Mutiny
The Caine Mutiny, a 1954 film adaptation of Herman Wouk’s novel, is yet considered one of the best military courtroom dramas available. The 1992 movie, A Few Good Men is another good example of military courtroom drama that parallels The Caine Mutiny in certain regards. The strength in both A Few Good Men and The Caine Mutiny rest in the development of its characters.
Of the characters in The Caine Mutiny that undergo the greatest amount of change, is that of Lieutenant Tom Keefer whom actor Fred MacMurray portrayed. In the story’s start, Keefer comes off as a trustworthy and stable friend to the officer just under the Caine’s commander – Lieutenant Steve Maryk (played by Van Johnson). Keefer is always there, just over the shoulder of Maryk advising him that Captain Queeg (memorably played by Humphrey Bogart) is a textbook paranoid and unfit for command. The relationship between Keefer and Maryk is casual – rather than authoritarian. One gets the initial feeling that Maryk is very lucky to have Keefer around for advice. It is when Keefer persist in nagging Maryk on his beliefs that Captain Queeg is mentally unsound that the lines are drawn – further defining and redefining the characters.
Interacting with and defining both Maryk and Keefer’s characters is the fated Captain Queeg. Though Queeg does come off as the unstable man Keefer says he is, there is a scene that evokes sympathy for the captain while at the same time making Keefer look like a back stabber. When Captain Queeg gathered all the Caine’s officers for an informal meeting and openly asked for help, none of the officers had a thing to say or offer. Keefer, the antagonist, could not look at the captain and seemed to be the source of the other officer’s silent rebellion. This failure to answer the captain’s call for help would be brought up by the trial lawyer Lieutenant Greenwald at the movie’s close.
Keefer, who begins to show his true colors, keeps nagging at Maryk about Queeg’s mental state until Maryk snaps, firmly telling Keefer not to say another word about Queeg being mentally unfit. In doing this, Keefer’s character becomes more pathetic by degrees while Maryk’s is somewhat ennobled.
As for the metamorphosis of Captain Queeg’s character, the situation with the missing strawberries, followed by the captain’s apparent breakdown during the typhoon, demonstrate that at least Keefer’s estimate was correct. Wouk accentuates the drama by creating a situation that had no definitively right or wrong answer. Was Maryk right in taking charge of the Caine?