The Caine Mutiny
And so today you are full-fledged ensigns. Three short months ago you assembled here from all parts
of the nation, from all walks of life: field, factory, office and college campus. Each of you knew
what the fighting was about, or you wouldn't have volunteered...
Callow Ensign Willis Seward "Willie" Keith reports for duty aboard the Caine, his first assignment out of officer candidate school. He is disappointed to find the Caine to be a small, battle-scarred destroyer-minesweeper. Its captain, Commander DeVriess), has discarded spit-and-polish discipline, and the crew of the Caine has become slovenly and superficially undisciplined – although their performance of their duties is, in fact, excellent. Keith has already met the executive officer, Lietenant Stephen Maryk, and is introduced to the cynical communications officer, novelist Lt. Thomas Keefer.
DeVriess thinks Keith has attempted to duck duty aboard the Caine by using family influence, and rides him hard. But DeVriess is soon replaced by Lietenant Commander Phillip Francis Queeg, a no-nonsense veteran officer, who has seen years of continuous duty. He quickly attempts to re-instill discipline into the crew, warning: "[T]here are four ways of doing things: the right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way. If they do things my way, we'll get along."
The next day, the Caine is assigned to tow a target for gunnery practice. Afterwards, Queeg berates both Keith and Keefer over a crewman's appearance and, while distracted, cuts off the helmsman's warning; as a result, the Caine runs over and cuts the towline to the target. Queeg refuses to accept responsibility for the accident and tries to cover it up. Other incidents serve to undermine Queeg's authority. When the remains of a quart of strawberries is stolen from the officers' mess, the captain goes to absurd lengths to try to find the culprit. More seriously, in combat, Queeg breaks off escorting a group of landing craft during an amphibious assault long before they reach the fiercely-defended shore, dropping a yellow marker in the water instead and leaving them unsupported. Afterwards, Queeg makes a speech to his officers, not explicitly apologizing for his behavior, but bending enough to ask for their support. His disgruntled subordinates do not respond.
Keefer begins trying to convince Maryk that he should relieve Queeg on the basis of mental illness. Matters come to a head during a violent typhoon. Maryk urgently recommends that they steer into the waves and take on ballast, but Queeg fears that the ballast will foul the fuel lines with salt water. Queeg's decisions seem to Maryk to threaten the capsizing of the Caine. When Queeg appears to become paralyzed and unable to deal with the crisis, Maryk relieves him and takes over, with Keith's support.
When they return to port, Maryk and Keith face a court-martial for mutiny. After questioning them and Keefer, Lieutenant Barney Greenwald reluctantly accepts the job of defense counsel, which a number of other lawyers have already turned down. The proceedings do not go well, as the self-serving Keefer has carefully managed to cover himself and denies any complicity. It was he who encouraged Maryk to question Queeg's sanity, playing amateur psychiatrist, and Greenwald has warned him in private that, under naval law, Keefer could, on these grounds, be held as responsible as Maryk.
A Navy psychiatrist testifies that Queeg does not have a mental illness, which the prosecution feels is enough to justify a conviction. But when Queeg is called to testify he snaps under Greenwald's tough cross-examination and gives blatantly paranoid testimony. Maryk is acquitted, and Keith is spared any charges.
After the acquittal, Maryk and his supporters celebrate at a hotel. Keefer joins them, not having the guts not to attend, although he lied in his testimony to protect himself. He thanks Maryk for not revealing this to the other officers. Maryk announces that it is "over and done with", but at that moment a drunken Greenwald shows up, and, claiming a "guilty conscience", proceeds to deliver a few truths as to what really happened.
Greenwald attacks the officers of the Caine for not appreciating the years of danger and hardship endured by Queeg, a career naval man, whereas the rest of them have only joined up due to the war. He then lambastes Maryk, Keith, and finally Keefer for not supporting their captain when he most needed it, and gets Maryk and Keith to admit that if they had given Queeg the support he had asked for, he might not have frozen during the typhoon.
Greenwald then turns to the man who, in his opinion, should really have been on trial: Keefer. He denounces him as the real "author" of the Caine mutiny, who "hated the Navy" and manipulated the others, while keeping his own hands officially clean. Maryk tells Greenwald to "forget it", but instead the lawyer exposes Keefer's double-cross in court and throws a glassful of wine into his face. He then invites him to meet outside if he wants to do anything about it: "I'm a lot drunker than you are, so it'll be a fair fight." The other officers also depart, leaving Keefer alone in the room.
A few days later, Keith reports to his new ship and is surprised to find himself once again serving under Commander DeVriess. However, his new commanding officer lets Keith know that he will start with a clean slate.
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