Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace

Herman Wouk has died at age 103.  A Navy veteran of the War in the Pacific, he became a celebrated novelist after the War.  To me his best novel will always be the Caine Mutiny, in which he drew upon his experiences to paint an unforgettable picture of life in the Navy during the War.  Here is my review of the movie based upon the novel:

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 27 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.

 

 

 

Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a wants-to-be career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character:  too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment, he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

 

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. (more…)

Published in: on May 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace  
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Go For Broke

My wife gave me for my birthday  last year a compilation collection of 15 World War II films.  I immediately noticed one of the titles:  Go For Broke (1951).  It had been over thirty years since I last viewed that film and I watched it and greatly enjoyed it.

Go For Broke, tells the story of the 442nd regimental combat team during World War II.  Made up of first generation Japanese-Americans, Nisei, the 442nd, along with the 100th Infantry battalion, made up of Nisei from Hawaii and which became associated with the 442nd, fought in Italy, France and Germany.   Many of the Japanese-American actors in the film were combat veterans of the 442nd which lends the film a very realistic, almost documentary feel, especially in the combat sequences.

The film opens in 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi where the men of the 442nd are being trained. Van Johnson, portraying Lieutenant Michael Grayson, is a “90 day wonder”, an enlisted man commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant after completing a 90 days officer’s candidate school.  Prior to officer’s candidate school he had been a member of the 36th National Guard Division, one of several National Guard units from Texas that fought in World War II, sometimes waggishly refered to as the Texan Army.   Grayson was hoping that he would be reassigned to the 36th and is dismayed to find that he will be leading Japanese-American troops, sharing to the full the prejudice that most Americans felt against everything Japanese following Pearl Harbor.  He immediately asks Colonel Charles W. Pence, portrayed by Warner Anderson, for a transfer to the 36th.  Pence quickly realizes, despite the denials of Grayson, that he is prejudiced against the Japanese-Americans, and informs him in no uncertain terms that his men are loyal Americans, that there will no be transfer, and that he is to take up his duties as a platoon commander, a 40 man unit, immediately.  The scene shifts to the platoon, where the men are relaxing in the barracks.  Other than their ancestry, and different slang, viewers quickly realize that they are like other American soldiers, griping about the Army, wondering what is going on back home, playing craps, etc.  Grayson and his men are a poor fit initially, but he does his job and helps turn them into soldiers. (more…)

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Go For Broke  
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