Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial


Every once in a while one gets a pleasant surprise. I never would have dreamed that Herman Wouk is still alive, but he is. As of today, 11/5/17, he is 102 and almost six months. And he published a book last year: Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author. Long may he write!

His novel The Caine Mutiny was a best-seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Most of you are probably familiar with the 1954 movie that was made from it, directed by Edward Dmytryk, screenplay by Stanley Roberts and Michael Blankfort, starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his most memorable performances as Captain Queeg, ably backed up by Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray. But in 1953 Wouk turned the novel into a two-act play, which told the story just from the trial. We don’t see the events that led up to the court-martial, as we do in the book and movie. We see exactly what the court-martial panel would have seen, which is testimony and cross-examination. The stage version was directed by Charles Laughton, this film was directed by Robert Altman during his nobody-returns-my-calls period, when he filmed plays. It works pretty well as a courtroom drama, but I have to say it’s more interesting to see the events themselves. In this performance I thought Captain Queeg, played by Brad Davis, started looking weird a little too early on the stand, before his final freak-out. But the guy played the part well. Also terrific were Eric Bogosian in the Jose Ferrer part of the Jewish defense attorney, Lt. Greenwald; Jeff Daniels as the man on trial, Lt. Maryk, the Van Johnson part; Kevin J. O’Connor as the weasel Lt. Keefer, the Fred MacMurray part; and Michael Murphy as the presiding officer at the court-martial. I have to say that the final scene, the celebration of Maryk’s acquittal where Greenwald tells both Keefer and Maryk what he really thinks of them, played much better in the movie.