The Caine Mutiny


The Caine Mutiny is a terrific film about the crew of a ship, The USS Caine, which mutinies because their Captain, a disciplinarian called Queeg played by Humphrey Bogart, makes one bad decision after another during World War II, thus endangering the lives of all on board.

The first part of the film illustrates what a poor captain Queeg is while the second shows the subsequent trial  for mutiny of an officer of the Caine. Captain Queeg is the star witness for the prosecution.

During the trial it slowly becomes clear that Captain Queeg is highly strung, perhaps even paranoid. He constantly plays with metal ‘worry balls’ as a way of calming his nerves. As the trial reaches its climax he sweats, talks too fast and his manner becomes ever more erratic. As he looks desperately around the court at all the people now staring at him, he realises that all now know there is something not quite right with him and that the officer on trial for mutiny was probably right to disobey him. Queeg, in the end, looks a broken man.

The officer is cleared of the mutiny charge and Captain Queeg probably gets schleppt off to weave baskets somewhere, I can’t remember. (I am writing this from memory and saw the film only once, about 30 years ago.)

The last scene in the film is of the crew throwing a party in celebration at the officer’s acquittal. His defence lawyer, the man who did such a sterling job of getting the charges dropped, staggers into the party, completely drunk. He confronts the acquitted officer and accuses him of deserting his captain. Surely the officer could see that the Captain was suffering from some mental illness? Surely he could see that he needed help to make tough decisions during the dangerous voyage? Despite this none of the officers did much to help but instead slowly isolated him. Though the officers were technically innocent, in showing no understanding or sympathy for a fallible human being they were morally guilty. The fact that this story has stayed in my mind for so long is testament to how good the film was.

In my head I agree with the lawyer. If someone can’t help being paranoid, as Captain Queeg couldn’t, then helping him rather than making things difficult for him is the best course of action. Yet I also have some sympathy with the acquitted officer since I too react to irritating situations with irritation, to annoying situations with annoyance, regardless of whether anyone can help it or not. It’s strange but even when I understand why something is happening, that understanding doesn’t help me one bit. I still react with my gut, not my head. ‘Reason is slave to the passions’, as David Hume would have said.

2 thoughts on “The Caine Mutiny”

  1. So what you’re saying is… (doing my best Cathy Newman impression)

    You know the r selected cretins around us were created by their (State) environment… but their actions are worthy of hate?

    On the r/K spectrum you’re about halfway along, in the Libertarian zone.

    (Dem-Lib) r K (Rep-con)

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