Rated: Not Rated
Length: 125 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French
The Caine Mutiny is justifiably considered to be one of the finest films about the U.S. Navy in World War II. Based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Herman Wouk, the films boasts a stellar cast including Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Jose Ferrer, and supporting roles by the likes of Lee Marvin, Claude Akins, E.G. Marshall and Jerry Paris. Directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Kramer, The Caine Mutiny is both an involving war film and a riveting courtroom drama.
Wouk, who had been a radio scriptwriter, enlisted in the Navy and saw action in the Pacific during World War II. He served aboard two minesweepers, which undoubtedly served as his models for the U.S.S. Caine. The book and film explore what might happen if the crew of a Navy ship came under the command of a captain who was mentally unbalanced.
I served aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, and the film’s depiction of shipboard life is very realistic. Bogart plays Lt. Commander Queeg, who, following several years of intense and dangerous sea duty in the Atlantic, has been give command of the Caine. He finds both the ship and its crew to be far below his expectations. The ship is worn out and the crew is exhausted and jaded. Queeg’s insistence upon “spit and polish” – exemplified by excessive attention to mundane details such as shirttails not being tucked in - is only a portent of more serious problems to come.
The film’s only flaw is an unnecessary romantic sub-plot involving the eager young Ensign Keith (Robert Francis, an upcoming star who died in a plane crash in 1955) and May Wynn (who was married for a time to actor Jack Kelly of Maverick television fame). The sub-plot does, however, allow for a few scenes to be filmed in gorgeous Yosemite Park.
All in all, this is one of the finest movies ever made about the U.S. Navy and is highly recommended.
As you may have read elsewhere, there have been complaints that the flesh tones in this transfer of The Caine Mutiny are overly red to the point of looking like sunburn. At first I was inclined to share this view, but after comparing the new DVD with the 1998 “Columbia Classics” release, I’m convinced that this is how the flesh tones were intended to look, or at least how they looked when this Technicolor film was released. In doing an A/B comparison of the two DVDs I saw little difference in the flesh tones, so to me it is a non-issue.
In other respects, however, the new transfer is a significant upgrade. This is particularly true in terms of grain, which has been substantially reduced. In opening scene on the 1998 DVD, where Ensign Keith is graduating from officer’s candidate school, the white hats of the graduates are practically crawling with grain. Most of that grain has been eliminated in the new transfer. The new transfer is not entirely free of grain, but the improvement is substantial. The image of the new transfer also appears to be sharper. The only real flaw that I noticed appears at the 54:34 mark (the “Yellowstain Blues” scene), where the image goes out of focus for an instant. This had to have occurred during the transfer process, because the glitch does not appear on the 1998 transfer.
I have seen a report of a momentary freeze during a layer change at the 58-minute mark, but I did not experience this on my DVD player.
The Dolby Digital soundtrack is fine. The dialogue is crisp and understandable throughout. The gunfire during the beach landing scene is reasonably powerful, and the sounds of the typhoon during the critical scene at sea are realistic enough for a film which was made more than 50 years ago. The audio cannot compare to what you would expect from a film today, but it probably sounds as good as possible.
The DVD of The Caine Mutiny includes an interesting retrospective documentary entitled “Inside the Caine Mutiny" featuring contributions from Richard Pena, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center; film critic Bob Castle (whose work appears regularly in “Bright Lights Film Journal); and filmmaker Ken Bowser. The documentary provides some insight into the importance of The Caine Mutiny to Columbia Pictures (the film industry was at a low point in 1954). The casting also is discussed at length. Although Bogart clearly is the lead actor, the character who gets the most screen time is Ensign Keith, played by Robert Francis. The young actor had appeared in only a handful of films when the private plane he was piloting crashed in 1955.
During a discussion of the career of director Edward Dmytryk, the documentary mentions that one of Dmytryk’s most sought-after films, The Sniper, is coming to DVD soon.
The other extra is an informative commentary by Pena and Bowser. The DVD also includes trailers for three action films.
Scene selection and language/subtitle options are available from the nautically-designed main menu.
The Final Analysis
If you already own The Caine Mutiny, the issue is whether you are willing to upgrade for (1) the extras; (2) a significant improvement in grain; and (3) a slight improvement in picture sharpness. On the other hand, if you do not already own The Caine Mutiny, and you enjoy war movies, this is a no-brainer. Go out and get it.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: May 8, 2007