The Caine Mutiny

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Situation quiet; the Captain's been put away for the night."
Lt. Keith

It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains, and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy. But the court on inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as "the Caine mutiny" throughout the service.

The 1951 Pulitzer-Prize winner for Literature, The Caine Mutiny was written by Herman Wouk. He adapted the novel into a play, "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial", which opened shortly before a film version of the novel, also titled The Caine Mutiny, was released in 1954 starring Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray.

A young sailor, Lt. Keith, graduates from Officer Candidate school and is immediately assigned to the destroyer-minesweeper Caine. Its first CO, Commander DeVriess, is uncouth and sloppy, but also an effective and well-respected commander. When he receives a promotion, he is replaced by the mercurial Lt. Cmdr. Queeg, a strict and unreasonably demanding man.

The story follows the Caine's tour of duty through the Pacific Theatre of World War II. During its voyage, Queeg gradually loses the respect of his crew through various instances of incompetence, bullying, paranoia, and perceived cowardice. After he becomes so obsessed with a missing quart of strawberries that he begins to ignore his other duties, some of his officers begin to suspect that he is insane.

Everything comes to a head when the Caine is caught in a typhoon, during which Queeg becomes paralyzed by indecision. His second-in-command, Lt. Maryk, relieves him, citing mental illness, and brings the ship safely through the storm. Such an extreme act must be justified if Maryk (and Keith, who, as officer of the watch, supported him) is not to be found guilty of mutiny.

The next part of the book deals with Maryk's trial. His defender, Lt. Greenwald, chooses to focus more on Queeg's actions than on Maryk's, eventually causing Queeg to break down on the stand. Maryk is acquitted (and Keith is never charged), but his and Queeg's naval careers are effectively over.

Keith returns to the Caine, where he serves as Executive Officer. When the ship is struck by a Kamikaze off Okinawa, he keeps his head and saves her and most of her crew when the current commander, Keefer (who was instrumental in Queeg's downfall) panics and jumps overboard. Instead of being repaired, the Caine is ordered to New York for decommissioning. As the officer assigned to take her home, Keith has the bittersweet honor of being the last captain of the Caine.

Captain Queeg's character has since become a model for The Neidermeyer.

Tropes used in The Caine Mutiny include:
  • 0% Approval Rating: Queeg achieves this in record time.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Most notably cutting down the Token Romance to only a scene or two, and skipping past nearly everything leading up to Willie coming aboard the Caine.
  • The Alleged Ship / What a Piece of Junk!: The Caine is a rusty, obsolete tub left over from World War I. She's constantly being repaired, and the crew fights a never-ending battle against the spreading rust. But not even a direct hit from a kamikaze can sink her.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parent: When Keith arrives at the Academy, his mother is so desperate to protect him from the navy that she has to be forcibly kept from rushing into the Medical Inspection room to rescue her dear little boy.
  • Anti-Mutinyad
  • Artistic License Ships: Averted in the adaptations, which replaced the novel's four-piper destroyer-minesweeper conversion with a Gleaves-class conversion.
  • Author Appeal: The writer got the idea reading regs because he was bored. How do you get so bored that you can only entertain yourself reading regs? Apparently Wouk managed
  • Author Avatar: An unusual case, verging on Anti-Sue. Tom Keefer closely resembles Herman Wouk in many respects - and is also cowardly, conniving, lazy, and disliked by the rest of the crew (except Keith). Greenwald even goes so far as to call him "the real villain of the Caine mutiny."
  • Badass Navy: When they go to the flagship to ask for help for Halsey, Keefer is intimidated by the flagship's spic-and-span atmosphere and realizes he wouldn't have a chance of convincing Halsey.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Or rather, bluff The Neidermeyer: the defense goads Queeg into a Villainous Breakdown on the stand, thus proving his removal from command was justified.
  • Captain Queeg: Trope Namer for The Neidermeyer in Real Life, hence the expression "Queeg-like".
  • Character Tics: Queeg has a compulsive habit of rolling steel ball bearings in his hand when under strain.
  • Dead Man Writing: From the main character's father.
  • Dirty Coward: Keefer, who put the idea of relieving Queeg into Maryk's head, but denied any involvement at the court-martial. Later, when he became the captain of the Caine, he panicked and jumped overboard after the kamikaze attack. He's painfully aware of all this, comparing himself to Lord Jim.
    • It's Queeg's cowardice in battle that ultimately turns the men of the Caine against him.
      • In the novel, at least, it's implied Queeg's cowardice is more due to having been on active duty for too damn long, since by all accounts he served with distinction in the Atlantic escorting convoys.
      • That is also implied in the movie.
  • Doorstopper: The novel itself is a robust 500 or so pages depending on what edition you're looking at. And in-story, Tom Keefer's novel is longer than War and Peace!
  • Engineered Public Confession: Queeg is a victim of this.
  • A Father to His Men: Captain DeVriess. Under him the Caine performs admirable (if unconventionally), crew morale is high, and there's an almost brotherly bond from Captain, to Officers, to Sailors. The crew even buys him a silver wristwatch as a going away present when he's finally relieved of command. Of course, this is in direct opposite to Queeg.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The title of the work.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: May Wynn.
  • Heel Realization: Arguably, the finest moment for Bogey in this film (and one of his best in his career) is the part where he, playing Queeg, is questioned by Greenwald, and realizes just how crazy he's sounding.
  • Iconic Characters: Captain Queeg.
  • Jerkass: Lieutenant Thomas Keefer.
  • Love Epiphany: Keith suddenly realizes that he really loves May just when the kamikaze hits the Caine.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lt. Keefer, who pushes Keith and Maryk into mutinying and then denies all involvement during the court-martial.
  • Momma's Boy: In the book Keith starts out like this, but matures over the course of the story.
  • The Mutiny: Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Keith thinks that his relationship with May can never end in marriage, because he has difficulty overcoming the fact she is of a lower social class than him.
  • The Perfectionist: Mentioned by the Navy psychiatrist as one of Queeg's faults.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Maryk is acquitted, but his naval career is destroyed.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After the trial Greenwald gives one to the Caine crew and especially to Lt. Keefer.
  • Shout-Out: After Queeg shares his no-nonsense command philosophy with the other officers:

Keith: Well, he's certainly Navy.
Keefer: Yeah. So was Captain Bligh.

    • Ironically the real Captain Bligh got the loyalist crew all the way to Australia in a lifeboat.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Roland Keefer, Tom Keefer's brother, is rough, crude, Book Dumb, but infinitely more honorable; pulling a Heroic Sacrifice to save the ship he was on.
  • Stage Names: May's real name in the book is Marie Minotti. Donna Lee Hickey, the actress who played her in the film also used this stage name.
  • Storming the Castle: The landing where Queeg flinches.
    • Destroyers provided close in covering fire during amphibious attacks and often had far more effect then the heavier vessels which often mainly kept Japanese heads down but deceived themselves as to the actual damage they were doing. Turing back and dropping a dye marker was abandoning a critical role.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Arguably Keith, who doesn't really advance the plot much until after the titular mutiny and the court-marshal is finished. Maryk comes across more as The Hero of the story, and Keefer, Greenwald and Queeg also make for much more interesting characters. Even his role in the mutiny feels shoe-horned in; he was the Officer On Deck at the time and supported Maryk's decision, something most of the other officers (aside from Keefer, perhaps.) would likely have done.
  • Token Romance: Keith's relationship with May really doesn't advance the plot at all, and the chapters focusing on it arguably make up some of the most unbearable chapters of the book. It gets worse when Keith is spending half his time in those scenes trying to dump her.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Queeg, definitely.
  • Upper Class Twit: Keith starts off this way, but improves over time while on board the Caine. Unfortunately, he seems to revert back immediately whenever he's not on the ship.
  • Villainous Breakdown: A classic, with Queeg goaded into a witness-stand rant about all the problems the crew gave him, with an unfortunate focus on the minor strawberries incident and also displaying his nervous tic of rubbing a pair of ball bearings. Partway through he realizes what it looks like, but it's too late.
  • World War II: The setting of the story. The Caine takes part in the invasion of Kwajalein, and survives a kamikaze attack near Okinawa.