Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Favorites List --- The Caine Mutiny --- Part One

Look back a moment and identify the first grown-up movie you ever watched, and understood as such. For my viewing of features on TV, it was seeing color there for the first time that opened windows to adult content and shades of gray I’d missed (or ignored) in mostly black-and-white monster pics gone before. Late shows on NC stations were resolutely monochrome into the mid-sixties. I’d stay up for Blood and Sand or She Wore A Yellow Ribbon in B/W with little hope of seeing either properly presented. Local channels paid more for color prints then. Fewer of these were made for syndication. Late-night in our markets seemed dull as low contrast 16mm they ran. When The Caine Mutiny showed up on Charlotte’s Channel 3, after their 11:00 news, and in color yet, I knew owl slots had embarked upon a new era, a 60’s equivalent of High-Definition. Remember how TV GUIDE would print little "COLOR" boxes in front of select titles? These were a magnet to viewers for whom color itself was still a novelty. Our late shows never edited features, my surest incentive for watching after prime-time. The Caine Mutiny ran 124 minutes, so imagine treatment it received during daytime or evenings. I recall one station cleaving over twenty minutes to begin at Bogart’s introductory speech on deck. Being up till 2 AM seemed a fair exchange for seeing all of The Caine Mutiny. It clicks for me (still does) as thoughtful drama with rich characters and exceptional performances. Critical reputations wax and wane even among settled classics. Caine just kept waning from status never exalted to begin with. It’s another of those I’m resigned to loving mostly by myself. Sentiment for being introduced at an impressionable age blinds me to weakness others point out (eloquently so at imdb and similar forums), so I’ll not try justifying The Caine Mutiny’s placement among personal favorites. It’s there simply for turning up at a moment in my life when I was ready for it. Doesn’t everyone’s all-time list come about pretty much the same way?

I looked at The Caine Mutiny again last week and was fourteen again, my pleasure enhanced by a widescreen DVD Columbia sells. Many 1954 critics said Caine was muffed by a romance subplot involving screen newcomers Robert Francis and May Wynn. For me, they’re a twisted sort of plus. Ensign Willie Keith was actually the Herman Wouk novel’s focal point, that read by millions and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize. Francis had been plucked from nowhere to supply point-of-view to characters we much prefer to him, called wooden and callow from then to now and standing not a chance beside veterans all at their best. Willie’s love spats and mother/son conflict are perversely allowed to dominate two opening reels of The Caine Mutiny. All this would seem an intrusion had I found the film more recently. As it is, the Willie/May narrative is a cherished friend, being a virtual tour through 50’s Tiki lounging (her crimson dress was a knockout on 16mm IB Tech prints) and furloughing at Yosemite locations there to confirm this is no ordinary Columbia programmer we’re watching. Francis actually paralleled James Dean for circumstances of a brief career and tragic early death. They were less than a year apart in age and both gone within two months of the other. Francis was prominent in four features to Dean’s three. They died violently in mishaps, Francis piloting a small plane (7-31-55) and Dean behind the wheel of a sport-car (9-30-55). Though he and May Wynn made two films together, no one’s tracked her down to ask what it was like working with Robert Francis, while Dean’s co-worker’s have been driven likely mad by inquiries over him. For all their similarities, it was image and disposition where Francis and Dean parted. Jim flatters still our notions of 50’s rebellion and was admittedly the better actor. His forgotten counterpart embodied conformism discredited since (a military man in all five features he did). The distraction of The Caine Mutiny’s Francis/Wynn subplot can be accounted for in part by Columbia’s investment in the careers of both young players. They’d be elevated by placement alongside Humphrey Bogart in a major production millions would see. Columnists more than once spoke of studio policy attaching neophyte talent to coattails of established names. Bogart for one realized he was being used to test-run untried Columbia merchandise and referred harshly (in print) to that company having gummed up Caine via too much emphasis on its love duo.

Producer Stanley Kramer suggested later that he’d have been better shunning Navy Cooperation on The Caine Mutiny, being it required script approval from image conscious Brass. Having had no mutinies on record, they didn’t want patrons thinking such events were fact-based, thus disclaimers/dedications on both credit ends for reassurance. Military endorsement wasn’t then the black mark upon creative integrity it would become in the sixties. As with Air Force-stamped Above and Beyond in 1952, outreach as indicated in the Navy endorsement above, plus a gala and colorful parade on Chicago’s State Street for that city’s opening (also above), neutralized fear that The Caine Mutiny might cast aspersions upon Naval personnel. Ticklish enough having Edward Dmytryk along to direct (shown at top with Robert Francis and May Wynn). He’d borne a Communist taint until recanting Party affiliation and was now fast-tracking a career path delayed by time served. The Caine Mutiny does play safe and was/is dismissed as middlebrow for doing so. Latter day thought police had 1954 counterparts at work here, only this was political correctness favoring the conservative side, and that paid handsomely with $8.5 million in domestic rentals.

For Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny was promise fulfilled by range he’d confirmed in Oscar-winning The African Queen. Finally he’d break for good with trenchcoat parts the faltering likes of Tokyo Joe and Sirocco. A few more of those might have eased him onto Alan Ladd’s slope, though Bogart was perceptive enough (and actor enough) to know that old ways with a gat were fast closing as patrons got (much) choosier. He was a prestige name now and safer Caine casting than first considered Richard Widmark, who might have been more appropriate as Captain Queeg, but had not the boxoffice insurance Bogart supplied. TIME reported the latter got $200,000 per show by 1954 … he also lends a film an aura of distinction, they added. That was a cover profile (above) showing Bogart as Queeg, sure indication he’d risen to a career peak. The role was sufficiently desirable as to tip the actor’s hand in negotiation … he showed up at a studio meet rolling steel balls to demonstrate fitness for work. That was hardly a way to score top money from paymasters thus made aware of his eagerness, but Bogart cared less about cash than parts he’d find rewarding, a policy that yielded legacy to surpass most every rival of HB’s generation (who else appeared in so many memorable pictures?). Bogart forwarded a Caine draft he knew was lacking to friend John Huston for comment, but was really in no position to force revisions the latter suggested, for he was on this occasion toiling for hire and unable to pull strings as with self-produced pics just previous. Frustration was vented to columnists who delighted in Bogart’s disparaging of movies completed. Distribution/exhibition accepted the knocks as cost of doing business with an iconoclast striving double-time to maintain the title. No wonder up-and-coming backlot rebels looked up to him. The Harvard cult would be youth's ultimate embrace of Bogart’s very calculated image. All it needed was for him to shuffle off (in January 1957) and leave behind a backlog seemingly tailor-made for a coming generation of fans.

Coming in Part Two: 1954 Exhibitors Mutiny Over Caine.


Anonymous John Seal said...

I've watched The Caine Mutiny at least five times, the first time when I was probably 12 or 13. I've always loved it, so you're not alone!

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody see the HORRIBLE print that Columbia was circulating in the late 70s? It looked like It was re-filmed off of a TV screen.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

My father had an interesting take on Caine: He thought Bogart did a good job but was completely miscast. Bogie, my dad said, was a real man with nothing to prove to anybody; Capt. Queeg was a tin-pot Napoleon using his rank to lord it over better men, like the captain in Mister Roberts. It was a type my dad said was common in the Navy during WWII, often shuffled off into marginal assignments like the Caine (or Roberts's USS Reluctant) to minimize the damage they could do. The result, my dad said, was that they became martinets -- out of personal inclination and in an effort to "prove" themselves and wangle better assignments -- and made life hell for their crews. James Cagney, my dad maintained, could (and did) play a weasel like Queeg, but not Bogart. His idea of Queeg, believe it or not, was Don Knotts -- Queeg, he said, was just Barney Fife without the endearing side and in a position to do real harm. Years later, another friend supported my dad's view by saying, "I always thought they should've cast Hume Cronyn." I think Richard Widmark would have been an inspired choice.

As for poor, wooden Robert Francis, he was neither Wouk's Willie Keith nor actor enough to make his casting work. Read Wouk's book and you can see the role was practically written for Mickey Rooney. It must have been obvious even in 1954.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

"who else appeared in so many memorable pictures?"

Thomas Mitchell?

12:35 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

"Caine" is such a fantastic movie, one of those I can never turn off if I happen to run into it on TCM.

One of my favorite performances is by Fred MacMurray - his thoroughly weaselly character is an amazing contrast to the amiable roles he would soon play for Disney and on TV.

10:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024