The Caine Mutiny

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Caine Mutiny Movie Poster Image
Classic non-combat WWII drama has complex themes.
  • NR
  • 1954
  • 125 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Tackles the always relevant dilemma of "following orders" versus "doing the right thing," and examines the consequences of the choices subsequently made. The movie attempts to clarify qualities of leadership, bravery, and teamwork. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The naive, innocent young ensign through whom the story is told develops wisdom and maturity as events alter his perspective. An effort is made to portray military personnel as individuals, with various degrees of competence, strengths, and weaknesses. The story takes place in 1943 in the white male world of the U.S. Navy. Two women have minor roles and the only two African-Americans work in the kitchen of the ship. 

Violence

Some brief battle footage from World War II in the Pacific. A ship is in danger of foundering during a violent storm. 

Sex

A tangential romantic story includes some kissing and embracing.

Language

One ethnic slur: "Jap."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Set in 1943, characters smoke. Two scenes show men drinking in social situations; in one of these scenes a character is drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Caine Mutiny is a fictional story set during World War II with very little action. Instead, it's the story of some of the men who fight for their country: their individual capabilities, their heroism, and their consciences. While most of the film takes place aboard "The Caine," a mine-sweeping ship in the Pacific, the tale concludes in a military courtroom, centering on the question of mental illness and the traumatic stress that threatens the well-being of those who serve. The conflict and the tension are mostly internal -- if and how an individual does or does not do the right thing in the face of major consequences. One scene shows ships under attack as they land on an island in the Pacific; another sequence finds The Caine in a violent, life-threatening storm. A minor sub-plot features a couple who kisses and embraces. Social drinking (with one inebriated character) occurs in two scenes. Characters occasionally smoke. There is one ethnic slur ("Jap").

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What's the story?

THE CAINE MUTINY takes place in 1943, the Pacific Theater, as the US Navy continues its battle against the Japanese. The Caine, a bedraggled and disorganized mine sweeper, gets a new captain... a by-the-book authority figure who demands order and efficiency. At first Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart, Oscar-nominated for his performance) seems a godsend, at least to Ensign Keith, a newbie with high expectations for his naval service. But quickly, however, the captain's behavior borders on destructive, especially when he makes some bizarre decisions that call his sanity into question. The officers onboard must then make critical decisions of their own, putting careers and lives in jeopardy.

Is it any good?

This is an excellent drama for adults as well as for tweens and teens who can appreciate some complexity along with their wartime history. Part war film, part psychological thriller, and part courtroom drama, this movie adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Herman Wouk focuses on important concepts, significant in any era: the nature of courage, the horrific effects of wartime on an individual's mental well-being, and the importance of doing the right thing, regardless of consequences. Though it's sometimes old-fashioned (particularly in an unnecessary romantic sub-plot) and clumsily directed, nuanced characters (played by some very appealing and popular actors of the 1950s) and an earnest effort to explore all the sides of the issues at hand make this film as relevant as it was when it was made.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss this movie's insights into the concept of leadership. What makes a good leader? Did this story help clarify your opinion? 

  • How did the filmmakers portray Captain Queeg, as a sympathetic character, a villain, or a combination of the two? Did your view of him ever change? Why or why not?

  • Were you surprised by the courtroom testimony of Lieutenant Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray)? Why do you think he testified in that way? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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