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"Ah, but the strawberries! That-that's where I had them..."

"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.
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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, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray.

A young sailor, Ensign Keith, graduates from Officer Candidate School and is immediately assigned to the destroyer-minesweeper U.S.S. 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.

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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.

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


This book / film / play features examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Queeg achieves this in record time.
  • Accuse the Witness: The meat of Greenwald's strategy during the court-martial is to unrelentingly cross-examines Queeg this way, eventually calling him as a hostile witness for the defense and accusing him of several illegal and unethical acts in order to portray him as incompetent and unfit for command. The prosecutor eventually realizes that Greenwald has turned the whole thing into a trial where the defense is prosecuting a witness. (And it works.)
  • Adaptational Heroism: The film version of Queeg is a much more sympathetic character than his book counterpart. In the book, Queeg's behavior is implied to be simple incompetence and stupidity rather than the toll of combat duty. He also has virtually no Pet the Dog moments and his undoing at the court martial is more from getting caught in numerous lies rather than his breakdown.
  • 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, and after the trial.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: It's very hard not to feel bad for Captain Queeg when he has his paranoid episode on the stand, as his mind simply collapses under the stress and strain of it all. The look on his face when he finally stops rambling and realizes that's he babbling non-sense and the subdued defeat in his tone as he and everyone else in the courtroom realizes his career in the navy is over is almost heart-wrenching.
  • The Alleged Ship / What a Piece of Junk: The Caine is a rusty, obsolete Wickes-class tub left over from World War I. She's constantly being repaired, and the crew fights a neverending battle against the spreading rust. But not even a direct hit from a kamikaze can sink her.
    The Caine is not a rusty, miserable, run-down looking hulk — the Caine is a rusty, miserable, run-down hulk! But she's a good ship! — From the MAD parody
  • Anti-Mutiny: The mutineers justify their actions with the rationale that Queeg's state of mind during the typhoon rendered him unfit to carry out his duties as The Captain.
  • Anti-Villain: As Greenwald points out during his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the mutineers, Queeg (who previously served as a junior officer on a destroyer in the Atlantic, and had survived his ship being sunk by a U-boat) was not intentionally a tyrant, but rather a Shell-Shocked Veteran who was placed in a position he was unsuited for because the Navy didn't recognize that he needed help. Greenwald even points out that the only reason America and its allies are winning the war in 1945 is because guys like Queeg held the line in 1941-42.
  • Artistic License – Ships: Averted in the adaptations, which replaced the novel's Wickes-class four-piper destroyer-minesweeper conversion (all of the real Wickes- and visually-identical Clemson and Caldwell-class destroyers were scrapped immediately after the war, with the only exceptions being two hulks so stripped and rusted that they're unrecognizable that remain even today in San Francisco Bay) with a Gleaves-class conversion.
  • Author Avatar:
    • An unusual case. 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 author of the Caine mutiny."
    • Keefer, like Wouk, is an author - Wouk began to write his first novel, Aurora Dawn while serving onboard USS Zane (DMS-16).
    • Greenwald, like Wouk, is Jewish reserve officer—an outsider in a Navy run by Anglo-Saxon Protestant Regular Navy men.
  • Badass Boast: After Greenwald throws his drink in Keefer's face, he says he'll be outside if Keefer wants to do anything about it, and...
    "I'm a lot drunker than you are, so it'll be a fair fight."
  • 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.
  • Brutal Honesty: Captain DeVriess does his best to dispel Willie Keith's romanticism of the Navy when he first boards the Caine, outright admitting the ship is a hunk of junk and not the carrier or battleship Keith had in mind. He also calls out that Keith has higher powers who are trying to pull strings to make Keith's life easier by getting him an opportunity to transfer to a cushy staff job. He then forces Keith to choose between taking the job or staying with the ship.
  • Captain Queeg: Trope Namer for The Neidermeyer in Real Life, hence the expression "Queeg-like".
  • Character Development: Willie Keith matures a lot over the course of the novel.
  • Contemptible Cover: Maryk once bought a book by Ernest Hemingway because there was a naked girl on the cover. He was disappointed by the content.
  • Character Tics: Queeg has a compulsive habit of rolling steel ball bearings in his hand when under strain.
  • Court-Martialed: The characters are tried for mutiny by a military court.
  • Dead Man Writing: From the main character's father.
  • Dirty Coward:
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Queeg turns the men of the Caine against himself with handing out severe punishment for minor offenses. However, nothing he does is against the regulations; he just applies them very harshly.
  • Door Stopper: 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!
  • Embarrassing Nickname: After the Battle of Kwajalein, Queeg is dubbed "Old Yellowstain" by the officers.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the movie, when Queeg is having his first officer's meeting, he tells the other officers about his exploits on an earlier ship, and cracks that the way things were in the last couple of years, he thought some of the enemy ships had it in for him personally. While he says it as a joke, it's an early indication of Queeg's paranoia/incipient case of PTSD.
    • Moments later, after the briefing, Maryk states that Queeg certainly is taking it "by the book", to which Keefer sardonically replies: "So did Captain Bligh".
  • The Ghost: Admiral William Halsey, who Maryk and Keefer try to see to get Queeg removed from command. It was Halsey who decided to try and brave the typhoon, which sets in motion the mutiny.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: May Wynn.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Queeg was far from a great captain, but the officers aboard the Caine hardly make things easier for him. Greenwald maintains that the whole situation with the typhoon would have been avoided if the officers had just given him the support he needed despite his failings—and Maryk and Keith essentially agree with him.
  • Hidden Disdain Reveal: In the movie, Defense attorney Lt. Greenwald gets the mutineers an acquittal, then delivers an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech in which he wishes he could have prosecuted them (keep in mind that mutiny is a capital offense; he's quite literally saying he believes they deserve to be shot), calling them out as mutineers who betrayed their captain. (In the book, his disdain is focused on Keefer only).
  • 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. The Caine officers have a collective one when Greenwald forces them to realize how badly they failed to help Queeg when he needed it. Even Keefer quietly accepts his tongue lashing instead of offering his usual wise cracks.
    • Notably in the book, Queeg does not have one. While in the movie, he comes to realize he's speaking nonsense after about twenty seconds, in the book Queeg rambles on for almost ten minutes before stopping and is perfectly content with what he said.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Queeg in the middle of the Taifun. He just clings to the calling system and stares blankly into space. The main reason why Maryk had to take the helm.
    • In the book, after a year of abuse from Queeg and a crisis involving his wife, Stilwell snaps when charged with mutiny. He lays down in his bunk and basically shuts down. The crew eventually has to carry him off the ship and he's hospitalized with acute melancholia.
  • Hostile Weather: The typhoon, in the Real Life, the Typhoon Cobra. Known also as "Halsey's Typhoon", it cost US Navy 790 men, three ships (all destroyers, which capsized) and 146 airplanes. Nine ships, including one light cruiser, three light carriers, and two escort carriers suffered enough damage to be sent for repairs. Herman Wouk himself had survived the typhoon onboard destroyer-minesweeper USS Zane (DMS-14).
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Maryk pretty much says this at his court martial to justify relieving Queeg, saying that his actions saved the ship and the only way to prove otherwise would have been to let the Caine sink.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Queeg calls it "geometric logic". Played pretty seriously with the strawberries incident, wherein Queeg just slides down into full-blown I Reject Your Reality territory when the guys who took the strawberries finally try to confess.
  • Interservice Rivalry: In the book there is tension between officers of the regular Navy and those of the Naval Reserve. Queeg is a regular Navy man and doesn't trust his wardroom of Reserve officers. The problem is that Queeg, despite being a Naval Academy graduate, has little sea experience and none on a destroyer minesweeper. Maryk, on the other hand, is the longest serving crew member of the Caine and was a fisherman in civilian life, but he can't get Queeq to listen to him because of his Reserve status.
  • Jerkass: Lieutenant Thomas Keefer.
  • Lost Food Grievance:
    • A rare example both Played for Drama and deconstruction: the "strawberry incident", which Queeg believes is Serious Business, is used to prove his incompetence.
    • It starts out (in Queeg's mind) as a mere diversion and minor project to relieve the boredom of routine operation of the ship, but as Queeg gets more and more desperate in his quest to find a key that never existed, the nightmare grows darker and darker both for him and for the officers he relentlessly goads, never accepting any conclusion (including the truth, that some of the galley workers pilfered a few and were too afraid to admit it to Queeg) except his deduced version involving a duplicate key made from a wax impression.
  • Love Epiphany: Keith suddenly realizes that he really loves May just when the kamikaze hits the Caine.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: It's not a thriller, but the title fits, and is ominous enough.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lt. Keefer, who pushes Keith and Maryk into mutinying and then denies all involvement during the court-martial.
  • Meaningful Name: USS Caine (DMS-22) as a venue of a symbolic fratricide. Doubles also as a Meaningful Rename - the ship herself is based on USS Zane (DMS-16), Wouk's wartime vessel.
  • 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. Though it turns out to be subverted, as the Navy never charges Maryk with mutiny because they know they couldn't convict him of it. They charge him with a lower, more vaguer one instead.
  • Naked First Impression: Captain De Vriess is completely naked and on his way to the shower when Keith first meets him. De Vriess thinks nothing of it, though it unsettles Keith.
  • Never My Fault: Queeg doesn't accept responsibility for any of his mistakes, always blaming the crew instead. Keefer as well, as he pushes and manipulates the other officers into mutiny, the denies any involvement when it's time to face the music.
  • New Meat: Willie Keith is the most junior officer aboard the Caine and it shows. He's unable to discern between a flight of Japanese warplanes and a flock of seagulls. The more senior officers try to take him under their wing for both good, like Maryk and DeVriess, and ill, like Keefer and Queeg.
  • Noodle Incident: The court martial of Bellison and Crowe. All we know is that it involved a riot in Auckland, and that De Vriess rigged it to get them acquitted.
  • Not So Different: In the book, Keefer eventually becomes commander of the Caine and turns out to be just as inept at Queeg, eventually isolating himself in his cabin just like Queeg did. The difference, however, is that Keefer is aware of his failings as a captain and willingly allow the more competent Keith to run the ship in his absence.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: In the movie, this is what Lt. Greenwald does while cross-examining the psychiatrist, to get him to admit Queeg was paranoid and suffering under the strain of combat.
  • The Perfectionist: Mentioned by the Navy psychiatrist as one of Queeg's faults.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • In the movie, Queeg gets a few, explaining his motivations for an early near-breakdown to Keith, and more notably after the "yellow stain" incident when he asks his officers for help controlling his demons. The latter is specifically cited by Greenwald during his climactic harangue.
    • In the book, despite Queeg being an even bigger jerkass he still gets two small moments. The first is when he affably supports Keith's promotion to lieutenant junior grade, something Keith didn't expect. The second is when we find out at the the court martial that, despite his threats to do otherwise, he'd actually given Maryk a glowing fitness report and recommended him for his own command of a destroyer minesweeper. Ironically, this is what ultimately destroys Queeg, as he'd spent his entire testimony raving that Maryk was a below standard officer.
    • In the book, Keefer gets quite a few of these moments, allowing him to remain sympathetic. He's a genuine friend to Maryk, something of a big brother to Keith, and his desire to get Queeg removed from command is out of genuine fear for the safety of the ship. He's aware of his failings as a captain when he takes over and his final act is to get himself removed from command so Keith can officially serve as captain on the final trip home.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Lieutenant Greenwald only defends Maryk out of dedication to duty. Once the trial is over and he punches out, he tells Maryk and the Caine officers exactly what he thinks of them.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Maryk is acquitted, but his naval career is destroyed.
  • Rank Up: At the end of the film, Keith is promoted to lieutenant junior grade and DeVriess returns as a full commander. In the book, this happens fairly often, with Keefer and eventually Keith promoted to commander of the Caine.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • After the trial Greenwald gives one to the Caine crew and especially to Lt. Keefer.
    • Followed by his tossing a drink in Keefer's face and challenging him to do something about it.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In the book, it's implied Keith is posted to the Caine as punishment for almost being expelled from midshipman school. After the court martial, Maryk is given command a landing ship and Queeg is sent to a supply depot in Iowa, which signals the end of both of their careers in the Navy.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • For Queeg, at least, the whole business with the strawberries. At one point, one of the officers proposes that the quart may have never even been loaded onboard (so its 'disappearance' is instead a clerical error), but an answer is never given either way.
    • In the movie, galley workers admit to Maryk and Keith that they pilfered a few strawberries, but once he's reached his conclusion, by "geometric logic", Queeg doesn't believe them, even after they confess.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: in the film, the romance between Keith and May is completely irrelevant to the plot, something Humphrey Bogart commented on after the film's release.
  • The Scapegoat: Lt. Maryk
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The ultimate reason for Queeg's behavior. He doesn't want to be the bad guy, but the psychological trauma he's experienced prior to taking command of USS Caine has left him quite unstable. Humphrey Bogart's performance really sells it, as he switches from a calm, almost-apologetic demeanor in his Pet the Dog moments to screaming at somebody over some trivial (or imaginary) offense a minute later, and fidgeting with the ball bearings in his pocket as he tries to calm himself.
  • 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.
  • Serious Business: The search for the strawberries starts to take an increasing amount of Queeg's time and he starts to take increasing amounts of punitive measures for the sake of Perp Sweating (such as denying a similar amount of food to the rations of all the crewmen and denying leave time). Understandably this becomes a Deconstructed Trope because when the time comes for the defense to talk about the situation, they point out Queeg's overkill... and even Queeg goes into shock when he figures out on the stand that he's being seen as an insane man because of this.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Roland Keefer, Tom Keefer's brother, is rough, crude, Book Dumb, but infinitely more honorable. He dies pulling a Heroic Sacrifice to save the ship he was on when it's hit by a kamikaze attack. When Tom gets into the same situation, he jumps ship.
  • Smug Snake: Lieutenant Thomas Keefer.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Maryk looks very sad when Queeg has his breakdown and he and the other Caine officers come to admit they failed Queeg as much as he failed them.
  • 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.
  • Undying Loyalty: Subverted. As the Caine's executive officer, Maryk has this for DeVriess and initially for Queeg. Unfortunately, Keefer's poisonous influence destroys it.
  • 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.
  • Uptown Girl: Gender-inverted. Willie Keith is an upper-class W.A.S.P; May Wynn is a daughter of poor Italian immigrants. Because of this, Keith thinks that his relationship with May can never end in marriage.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Greenwald's final speech to the officers of the Caine (and himself as well).
  • White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Willie Keith. One of the reasons he thinks his relationship with May can't get serious is that she's the daughter of Italian immigrants.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: After Maryk announces his intent to carry out article 184, Keith becomes smug about the situation, but doesn't openly show it. Maryk, on the other hand, continues to treat Queeg with respect, which partly saves him during his Court-Martial.
  • You Are in Command Now: In the book, after the court martial, Keefer is given command of the Caine. After the war ends, he turns the ship over to Keith for the final trip home.

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