Filmsite Movie Review
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Judgments Upon Captain Queeg:

After a "pregnant pause" in the ward-room, the three main characters each provided their judgments upon Queeg following the "Yellowstain" incident:

  • Ensign Keith viewed Queeg's confessional speech somewhat sympathetically, although stated that the captain "turned yellow the first time we got into action"
  • Maryk interpreted Queeg's words as a near-apology: ("It wasn't exactly an apology, but it was as close as he could get to one"), and excused Queeg for being "a tired man"; he faulted Keith and Keefer for not backing up their combat-fatigued commander with shot nerves
  • Lieutenant Keefer - with only an amateur understanding of psychiatry, Keefer preached dissension against Queeg, and insistently labeled his erratic behavior as a "paranoia case." ("Has it ever occurred to you that our Captain might be unbalanced?...Captain Queeg has every symptom of acute paranoia. It's just a question of time before he goes over the line"); his quasi-diagnosis eventually encouraged and undermined the Captain and led to a mutiny aboard ship

Keefer steadily instilled doubt in Maryk's confidence in Queeg by questioning the captain's mental instability:

Will you look at the man. He's a Freudian delight. He crawls with clues. His fixation on the little rolling balls. The chattering in second-hand phrases and slogans. His inability to look you in the eye, the constant migraine headaches....

At first, the well-meaning Maryk defended Queeg: "Everybody's a screwball in some way. That doesn't make them crazy....There'll be no more talk about the Captain being crazy. It's like running around explosives with a blow torch." Maryk grabbed a Bible and vowed to Keefer: "I swear to you on this, I'll report to the Captain anything further you say along those lines" - he didn't want to hear any more disturbing insinuations about Queeg's mental state.

However, Maryk still suspected that something might be medically wrong with Queeg. He secretly read a book on Mental Disorders, and began keeping a medical journal or log-record of Queeg's "mentally-disturbed" behavior.

Three More Incidents of Queeg's Incompetence:

Three more incidents built a strong case against Queeg's mental incapacity, incompetence, and mistreatment of the crew:

  • during the showing of a Hopalong Cassidy western film on deck, Queeg (with the steel balls rolling in his hand) experienced a temper tantrum with the 'disrespectful' projectionist, and immediately suspended movies on board the ship for 30 days; Maryk wrote in his journal about the resultant low morale of the crew: "Morale couldn't be lower. The crew is resentful. The officers just going through the motions of carrying out orders."
  • during a general training drill, Queeg threatened to dock any crew member "three-days' liberty for not wearing proper battle gear (helmet or life-jacket); when humiliated by the crew's deceptive antics to wear the right attire, announced that the innocent would be punished with the guilty: "There will be no liberty for any crew member for three months!"
  • Queeg ordered a full-scale investigation to determine who pilfered about a quart of frozen strawberries from the wardroom pantry refrigerator that was reserved for the Caine's officers. Drawing from his experience in a previous pilfered cheese investigation in 1937, Queeg ordered a vain "detective work" dragnet (including questioning each officer about number of their portions - 24 in total); he wrongly presumed that there was a duplicate mess key to the refrigerator lock and insisted on a strip-search of crew members to locate it

Queeg's over-reactive, idiosyncratic behavior caused Maryk to bend to Keefer's assessment that the Captain's impaired behavior was paranoid, and that he should apply Article 184 of Naval Regulations to remove Queeg from command:

This is over the line. Queeg is a paranoid or there's no such thing as paranoia....Is it [the strawberry incident] worth turning a ship upside down? Would anyone but a crazy man do it? Steve, are you familiar with Article 184 of Navy Regulations?...'It is conceivable that most unusual and extraordinary circumstances may arise in which the relief from duty of a commanding officer by a subordinate becomes necessary either by placing him under arrest or on the sick list. Such actions shall never be taken without the approval of the Navy Department except when it is impracticable because of the delay involved.' If I were you, Steve, I'd memorize it.

The question arose: Was Lt. Keefer right? Were the naval officers justified in taking control of the ship, without being accused of mutiny?

As Ensign Barney Harding (Jerry Paris) was about to leave the ship due to an emergency leave request, he divulged the real explanation for the missing strawberries. He had witnessed the mess-boys eating the strawberries, and had told Queeg, who then blackmailed him to remain quiet: ("He (Queeg) called me a lair, and threatened to hold up my orders if I mentioned a word to anyone"). Obviously, Queeg had learned the truth of the incident, but then covered it up by threatening to cancel Harding's emergency leave request.

Keefer convinced Maryk and Willie to join him and report Queeg's strange behavior to fleet commander Admiral William Halsey on his impressive air-craft carrier fleetship New Jersey, but then Keefer chickened out on deck at the last moment. He cautioned them about the possibility that Maryk in particular would damage his life's career (and be accused of mutiny) if they were wrong, and argued that Maryk's log records would be interpreted as meaningless on board Halsey's well-run ship:

We've been kidding ourselves. This isn't the Caine. This is the real Navy, with real officers, not Queegs! The Caine's a freak, a floating mistake...They'll never believe our story....we won't be able to make it stick. Unfortunately, everything Queeg did, everything you've got in your log there can be interpreted as an attempt to enforce discipline...If we go through with this, we're in trouble...I can see six sides to every risk and twelve reasons why I shouldn't take it...Behind this smiling, brilliant, eloquent exterior, I've got a yellow streak fifteen miles wide. I'm too smart to be brave.

Queeg Removed From Command of the Caine During a Typhoon:

The problems onboard the Caine reached a climax during maneuvers in a fierce typhoon in late July of 1944. The beleagured and combat-fatigued Captain panicked, froze and became mentally paralyzed, and refused to change course. He ignored Maryk's urgings to change and reverse course into the wind, take on ballast, and persevered with a lack of assessment ("We're not in any trouble"). Every one of his commands threatened to capsize the ship. Queeg's inaction endangered the crew, himself and the overmatched ship. Under these new circumstances of mis-management, Queeg was relieved of his command and authority by Lt. Maryk, who stepped in and took charge. He cited Section 184 of the Navy Regulations:

Captain, I'm sorry, but you're a sick man. I'm relieving you as captain of this ship under Article 184....I'm sorry sir, but you're not issuing orders on this bridge anymore. I've relieved you. I take full responsibility.

Maryk ignored Queeg's order to arrest him ("Mr. Maryk, you're under arrest. Go below to your cabin"), and was backed up by officer-of-the-deck Ensign Willie Keith, who as a subordinate officer could relieve a commanding officer under extraordinary circumstances.

Preparation for Maryk's and Keith's Court-Martial Trial:

The Caine returned to San Francisco, where Maryk and Keith were summarily court-martialed for mutiny. May phoned Maryk to offer her emotional support. He apologized for not being committed to marrying her in the past: ("What an idiot I was. I could have married you in the most beautiful place in the world. I'll regret that I didn't for the rest of my life"). She ended the call with: "Don't, please. It's over. It's all in the past" - and he responded by affirming his love: "But I want you to know that I love you, and I'll never forget you."

For the memorable courtroom sequences of the court-martial trial (for mutiny and wrongfully assuming command), the two were to be defended by brilliant but reluctantly-unwilling military defense lawyer and counselor Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer). Greenwald bluntly lacked hopeful opinions of the trial's outcome. Eight other lawyers had already turned down the offer to represent them:

I'm going to be frank with you two. I've read the preliminary investigation very carefully and I think that what you've done stinks...I don't want to upset you too much, but at the moment, you have an excellent chance of being hanged.

Through his actions, Greenwald believed that Maryk was either "a fool or a mutineer. There's no third possibility." Both Keefer and Greenwald cited evidence that although three other ships sank, 194 other ships remained afloat during the typhoon without the removal of their captains. Although Keefer stated how Queeg was clearly mentally unbalanced and paranoid during the storm, Greenwald countered: "The Navy has three psychiatrists who are prepared to testify that Capt. Queeg is completely sane." Keefer promised to back up his co-officers on the witness stand by claiming that he was the first one to notice (and diagnose) the Captain's "psychotic symptoms" and counsel Lt. Maryk about them, even though he wasn't a psychiatrist.

The Trial:

The prosecution led by tough Lt. Cmdr. Challee (E.G. Marshall) intended to prove that Lt. Commander Queeg was a sane and intelligent officer, and didn't deserve to be relieved of duty. Both Maryk and Keith pleaded "NOT GUILTY." Challee also attempted to show that Ensign Keith was inexperienced with only one year in the service, and had gradually hated him and became prejudiced against Queeg's lack of leadership and judged him to be mentally-ill: ("I thought he was incompetent and unfair. He blamed the members of the crew for his own mistakes. And he rode the men too hard").

When Lt. Keefer took the stand, he avoided being charged with inciting to mutiny (an offense mentioned in Article 186 of the Navy Regulations) by perjuring himself, and by refusing to supportively testify on behalf of Maryk and Keith. To distort his own complicity in antagonistic, anti-authoritarian actions against the Captain, the cynical communications officer Lt. Tom Keefer testified that taking the ship from Queeg was in error, to save himself. He vowed that he had not been present on the bridge during the typhoon to witness Queeg's behavioral problems, when Maryk relieved him of command. And then Keefer incredulously claimed that he couldn't comment on Queeg's paranoid behavior because he wasn't a psychiatrist, although he had continually urged the others to find Queeg unfit for duty. Keefer also referred to the officers' aborted visit to Admiral Hawley's carrier (that he had advocated) when he told them that Maryk's medical log didn't justify such action. He slyly and ambiguously disavowed any blame before the trial and during his self-serving testimony at the trial, topped with his statement that he was "flabbergasted" when Maryk relieved the Captain.

The next witness, Lt. Comdr. Dickson M.D. (Whit Bissell), who was under pressure by Greenwald to talk about Queeg's medical make-up and condition, answered two basic questions:

  • Did Queeg have symptoms of a paranoid personality?
  • Was he unbalanced, suspicious, incompetent, neurotic, and obsessively perfectionist?

Dr. Dickson admitted that Queeg had "inferiority arising from an unfavorable childhood and aggravated by some adult experiences" - including a lot of strain from "long, arduous, combat duty." Queeg was also judged to be a perfectionist who was often hard on "subordinates about small details," and believed that people were "hostile" toward him through criticism that he sometimes interpreted as unjust persecution. Greenwald summarized the diagnosis:

Rigidity of personality, feelings of persecution, unreasonable suspicion, a mania for perfection, and a neurotic certainty that he is always in the right. Doctor, isn't there one psychiatric term for this illness?

The doctor then suggested that Queeg's diagnosis described him as a "paranoid personality" with minor mental disturbances - not as a mentally-ill patient.

Maryk's own testimony opened with his statement that he regarded it as his duty to take over the ship: "Captain Queeg was sick, mentally ill and I had to take over...I wanted to save the ship." The prosecutor Challee asserted that Maryk was not an expert doctor about mental illness. He was completely unqualified to distinguish between "paranoid" and "paranoia," and to make psychological judgments of Queeg's behavior and mental disorder through his logged observations.

Queeg's Courtroom Breakdown:

The evidence thus far appeared to favor the Captain as a consistently-demanding commander, until the nervous, agitated and inept behavior of Captain was itself questioned. The prosecution's case faltered when Queeg was cross-examined.

In a memorable performance on the witness stand during his court-martial trial about disloyal officers and about the strawberry incident (similar to Bogart's performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)), the by-the-book Queeg gradually trapped himself and lost all credibility during his own testimony with incoherent, crazy, unbalanced and unhinged ramblings. He slowly disintegrated, became frantic and paranoid, and discredited himself after being broken down under tough cross-examination questioning from Greenwald about each incident (the tow-line and dye stain incidents, and the strawberries fiasco).

While he babbled on and on nervously, and absent-mindedly rolled and clanked two steel ball bearings in the palm of his hand, a habit he had developed, he cracked under the pressure. He kept insisting that a duplicate key existed and went to extreme lengths to find it, even though, as Greenwald noted, Queeg had already been told by Ensign Harding that the mess boys had eaten the strawberries and that he was conducting a search for an imaginary key. Queeg foolishly and hysterically defended and justified his own actions in the pilfered strawberries incident (and became agitated with the mention of Harding's name), while condemning the disloyalty and uncooperativeness of his officers and blaming everyone else for the Caine's problems. He called Harding's account unreliable, and declared that Harding didn't need to appear to testify because he was a disloyal liar like all the others:

As usual, my disloyal officers failed me, and the key couldn't be found....The key was not imaginary. And I don't know anything about the mess boys eating strawberries....They were all disloyal. I tried to run the ship properly by the book, but they fought me at every turn. If the crew wanted to walk around with their shirttails hanging out, that's all right, let them! Take the towline - defective equipment, no more, no less. But they encouraged the crew to go around, scoffing at me and spreading wild rumors about steaming in circles. And then 'Old Yellowstain.' I was to blame for Lieutenant Maryk's incompetence and poor seamanship. Lieutenant Maryk was the perfect officer, but not Captain Queeg. Ah, but the strawberries! That's, that's where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer.

(He paused - looked at all the questioning faces that stared back at him, and realized that he had been ranting and raving.)

Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory. If I left anything out, why, just ask me specific questions and I'll be glad to answer them, one by one.

The courtroom scene ended without a judge's verdict - it wasn't necessary since the case was closed. The two officers were promptly acquitted.

The Aftermath of the Courtroom Case:

In the conclusion of the film, the officers (minus Queeg) celebrated their successful defense and acquittal during a party amongst the officers. Maryk questioned turncoat Keefer's attendance at the celebration: "I didn't think you'd have the guts to come around." Keefer replied: "I didn't have the guts not to."

A drunken, sarcastic, and sneering Greenwald who admitted to a "guilty conscience," admitted why he had taken the foul case: "I defended you, Steve, because I found the wrong man was on trial - so I torpedoed Queeg for you. I had to torpedo him. And I feel sick about it." He praised Queeg's earlier service record in the 30s, while berating the others (and himself) in a prosecutorial tone for showing uncaring ignorance of those who had defended their country:

Greenwald: When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton, who was standing guard over this fat, dumb, happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh, no! We knew you couldn't make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys, tough, sharp guys who didn't crack up like Queeg.
Keith: But no matter what, Captain Queeg endangered the ship and the lives of the men.
Greenwald: He didn't endanger anybody's life! You did! All of you! You're a fine bunch of officers.

He criticized Maryk and the other officers for not preserving military integrity, and for not supporting Queeg as captain when he needed their loyalty and sympathy after the dye-marking incident:

Greenwald: Tell me, Steve, after the Yellowstain business, Queeg came to you guys for help and you turned him down, didn't you?
Maryk: Yes, we did.
Greenwald: You didn't approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn't worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged him. You made up songs about him. If you'd given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you suppose the whole issue would have come up in the typhoon?

Greenwald's major scorn and recrimination, however, was reserved for the deceitful, manipulative and cowardly Keefer ("the man who should have stood trial") - "the Caine's favorite author, the Shakespeare whose testimony nearly sunk us all." He confronted the understated Keefer as the evil influence, the true instigator and mutineer, and the "real author" behind the entire mutiny:

You ought to read his testimony. He never even heard of Captain Queeg!...Queeg was sick. He couldn't help himself. But you - you're real healthy. Only you didn't have one-tenth the guts that he had...I want to drink a toast to you, Mr. Keefer. From the beginning, you hated the Navy, and then you thought up this whole idea, and you managed to keep your skirts nice and starched and clean, even in the court martial. Steve Maryk will always be remembered as a mutineer. But you! You'll publish your novel, you'll make a million bucks, you'll marry a big movie star, and, for the rest of your life, you'll live with your conscience, if you have any. Now, here's to the real author of the Caine mutiny. Here's to you, Mr. Keefer.

After a mock toast, he threw his champagne [another yellow-stained marker as a derogatory label] in Keefer's face to humiliate him, and then offered an outspoken challenge:

If you wanna do anything about it, I'll be outside. I'm a lot drunker than you are - so it'll be a fair fight.

The accused Keefer was left standing alone in the room with a rendered verdict of guilty.

The Film's Ending:

The film concluded with Keith, now reassigned to a new ship under the command of Captain DeVriess - to his surprise and relief. After their honeymoon, Keith's new bride May Wynn - kissed him at dockside and watched as her husband's ship departed for the Pacific theater of the war, and steamed away under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

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