Home > Reviews > THE CAINE MUTINY – Max Steiner



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Stanley Kramer of Columbia Pictures found inspiration for a compelling military drama within the pages of Herman Wouk’s 1951 novel, “The Caine Mutiny”. He purchased the film rights and tasked Edward Dmytryk with directing, and Wouk to write the screenplay. All did not begin well as controversy arose regarding the script. Dmytryk was dissatisfied with Wouk’s effort, which would have required a ten-hour film, so he relieved him and hired veteran writer Stanley Roberts. While Roberts was successful in his mission, he resigned when further cuts were ordered to keep the film’s running time under two hours. As such Michael Blankfort was brought in and cut 50 pages from the script, to achieve its final incarnation. More problems arose, as the navy was initially resistant to support the film due to its narrative of an unhinged Captain and mutiny aboard a US naval vessel. The final script however won over Naval command and ship resources were dedicated to the film. There was more controversy to come as casting also got off on the wrong foot. Columbia President Harry Cohn leveraged Humphrey Bogart’s desire for the lead role of Captain Queeg to reduce his customary $200,000 salary, which caused the actor great consternation and bitterness. In the end he accepted the role and provided one of the finest acting performances of his career. He would be supported by a fine cast, which included; Jose Ferrer as Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, Van Johnson as Lieutenant Steve Maryk, Fred McMurray as Lieutenant Tom Keefer, Robert Francis as Ensign Willie Keith, Tom Tully as Lieutenant Commander William De Vriess, May Wynn as May Wynn, and E. G. Marshall as Prosecutor Lieutenant Commander John Challee.

The story is set in July of 1944 aboard the USS Caine, a minesweeper. The ship’s longstanding and popular Commander William De Vriess is relieved of command by Captain Queeg. De Vriess’ command style was liaise faire, however Queeg is a crusty, by the book autocrat who attempts to instill order and discipline in the crew. Over time his eccentric and abrasive personality upsets ship morale and demoralizes his officer corp. Matters worsen during a naval operation where the Caine was tasked with running cover for a marine landing craft assault. When the Caine comes under fire, Queeg panics, turns and runs, thus abandoning the now vulnerable marines. This cowardice earns the contempt of the crew, and thereafter he is derided with the nickname “Old Yellowstain”. Things come to a head when the ship begins to founder in a severe typhoon. Queeg refuses to turn the ship into the wind to mitigate the waves buffeting the ship, insistent on maintaining course to stay with the task force. When the ship almost rolls and he freezes, Maryk relieves him of his command under Article 184 of Naval Regulations and takes the ship back to base. The officers are charged with mutiny and put on trial. During a very tense trial Queeg’s mental illness is finally exposed and the officers are acquitted. The film was a huge commercial success, earning over ten times its production cost of $2,000,000. It also received critical acclaim, earning seven Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing and Best Film Score.

Max Steiner’s contract with Warner Brothers ended in 1953 and was not renewed as studios began ending the practice of contracted composers. Now a free-lancer, his still recognized prestige earned him the film’s scoring assignment. He had brilliantly scored two other Bogart films, Casablanca (1943) and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), and this third effort would also produce sterling results. Steiner’s understood that this was at its heart, a dialogue driven drama, as such there were constraints on spotting the music and the need to not be so intrusive as to distract from the dialogue. Accepting these constraints, his approach to the film was again leitmotif, but would employ only three primary themes and two motifs. Steiner dubbed his primary theme the Full Speed Ahead Theme, which was versatile, allowing expression in two forms. The first was a rousing trumpet rich march brimming with patriotic fever, while the second emotes with restrained nobility. Worth noting is how Steiner manipulates and renders the theme during stressful and challenging scenes.

The Military Theme serves as an identity of the spirit of the US navy, and offers a bold, proud and forthright martial construct propelled by confident trumpets energico with a driving drum cadence. For his Love Theme for Willie and May he interpolated and embellished the 1926 ballad “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” by songwriter Jimmy McHugh, and lyricist Clarence Gaskill. The theme emotes with a 1920’s dance like sensibility, whether in song form carried softly Jo Ann Greer’s alluring and yearning lyrics, or as an instrumental piece. For the Japanese he provided the simple pentatonic Japanese Motif emoted by ominous low register horns, which sow a lurking danger. The second motif is the Stress Motif, which supports scenes and interactions where Captain Queeg or his officers exhibit stress. The motif is simple in construct, emoting as a grim descending line, which never resolves. Steiner also understood that for authenticity, he needed to provide songs of popular culture and contemporaneous music. As such he infused his soundscape with such songs as “Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean”, “The Marines Hymn”, “What Shall We Do With A drunken Sailor?”, and the traditional “Sailors Hornpipe”.

“Main Title” offers a splendid score highlight where Steiner introduces his three primary themes, which perfectly establish the tone of the film. We begin proudly atop the fanfare declarations of the Military Motif, which supports the Columbia Studio logo. As the opening credits begin to roll, the trumpets fare introduces an inspired patriotic rendering of the “Full Speed Ahead March”. At 1:23 a trumpet bridge brings forth the more lyrical rendering of the theme. We conclude at 3:23 with a segue into the Love Theme atop sumptuous strings romantico, which carry us into the film. The next scene where Willie attends his graduation ceremony is not offered on the album. The ceremony is supported by a solemn rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme, which becomes joyous as he greets his proud mother. The Love Theme joins when he sees his girl May. We change scenes to a nightclub where May is performing in a stunning red dress. She sings “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me (Vocal)” the source cue song from which Steiner fashioned his love theme. It emotes with a 1920’s dance like sensibility, carried softly Jo Ann Greer’s yearning lyrics, so full of longing. Afterwards in “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me (Instrumental)” they find a table, and there is tension. May relates her disappointment that he would not introduce her to his mother, and that he will deploy tomorrow. We see that he is attracted to her, yet things go sour when he intimates that he would like to make love to her. When he hesitates after she asks if he intends to marry her, she leaves in a huff with him in pursuit. Steiner supports the moment wonderfully with an instrumental rendering of the Love Theme. This rendering provides an intimate slow dance version, which offers juxtaposition to their tense conversation. The message – Love will find a way.

“Keith Meets Navy” packs a lot of inspired vital energy for this short cue. Willie departs San Francisco and arrives at Pearl Harbor, where a transport takes him to the USS Caine. He is carried with pride atop a rousing, and patriotic rendering of the Military and Full Speed Ahead Themes. “Top To Bottom” follows an uncomfortable meeting with the Captain William De Vriess. The cue offers extending comic writing by Steiner, which perfectly captures the scene. As an irreverent Lieutenant Keefer begins a ship wide tour with ensigns Keith and Harding, a comic prelude ushers in light-hearted albeit silly travel music, which reveals the sorry state of the Caine and its crew. At 1:03 a woodwind ascent informs us of the towering mast, which Keefer orders them to climb. They ascend to a plodding variant of the Full Speed Ahead Theme, from which queasy strings support Harding’s nausea and vomiting. We see they are ‘proud’ of their ship and Steiner informs us of this with a comic rendering of “Sailors Hornpipe”. In “Lost Paravane” we have inspired patriotic writing, where both military themes are expressed. We open with a purposeful rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme, which after a harp interlude reprises as a bravado statement as the crew performs mine sweeping drills. At 1:49 the sweep device falls overboard during retrieval and Lieutenant Maryk jumps in the water to retrieve it. An orchestral drop ushers in impassioned strings energico, which support his swim and retrieval efforts. His success is crowned with a triumphant rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme. Upon his return, a harp glissando supports Lieutenant Keith falling into the water. Steiner scores the aftermath with Full Speed Ahead Theme infused with comic accents, as the embarrassed Keith returns to his quarters.

In “Meet Queeg”, Captain De Vriess has been relieved of his command by Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg. A solemn rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme supports the transfer of command as the assembled crew observes. “De Vriess Leaves” offers a plaintive rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme, full of both relief, and regret as De Vriess departs the Caine. In an unscored scene Captain Queeg assembles his officers and lays down the law. He is a strict authoritarian that insists on disciple and will brook no dissent. He orders all crewman shaved, with cropped hair, and their shirt tails tucked into their trousers. In “Off To Target” the Caine is pulling artillery target rafts and Steiner supports the imagery with a proud rendering of the Full Speed Ahead March, with embellishment by the Military Theme trumpets. When Captain Queeg orders right full rudder to return home after the exercise we enter “Shirt Tail”, a dark, tension cue. It reveals Keith being summoned by an angry Captain Queeg to explain why a crewman does not have his shirt tucked in as ordered. Repeating statements of the Stress Motif by ominous horns sow tension. The Full Speed Ahead Theme joins, but its articulation is now dark and minor modal, further adding to the tension. The helmsman tries to advise the Captain that they are sailing in a circle towards the target raft but is silenced and threatened by Queeg. As the ship closes upon the raft we build upon the Stress Motif to a horrific crescendo, which closes darkly, and with finality as the ship severs the towing cable. Dark statements of the Stress Motif carry the Captain’s fury as he shamelessly dissociates himself from what has happened, ordering that they report that the tow cable was defective and broke.

In “To The Barn” a softer and more relatable Queeg pulls Keith aside and tries to engage in small talk. But his motives are self-serving. He relents in his prior criticism, hoping that by doing so Keith will reciprocate and overlook his incompetence with the towing cable. We open with the hornfare of the Military Theme, which ushers in the second, and softer variant of the Full Speed Ahead Theme carried by a plaintive solo English horn, which carries their conversation. Its major modal bearing returns to close the scene as we pan out to see the Caine sailing home. In “Mother Meets May” the Caine has been ordered back to San Francisco with a proud and patriotic rendering of the Full Speed Ahead March supporting her entry into San Francisco harbor. As Willie disembarks he spots May in the crowd and the Love Theme carries him towards her, only to be intercepted by his mother. As they embrace May looks on despondently, but is reassured when Willie bring his mother over and introduces her. “Love In The Valley” reveals one of the score’s finest cues. We see Willie and May on holiday amidst the stunning waterfalls, verdant pastures and pristine natural beauty of Yosemite Park. Steiner supports the idyllic setting and their time together with the florid, unabashed romanticism of the Love Theme, replete with exquisite passages for solo cello as they declare their love and kiss. At 1:44 it is the next day and a resplendent reprise of the Love Theme supports our lovers as Willie proposes. We close sadly as May refuses, as she tells him that his mother would never approve of her.

“Escort Jacob” reveals Captain Queeg informing the crew of their combat assignment to escort Marine landing craft to within 1,000 yards of the beach. As the Caine sails in the open sea we are offered a horn lover’s dream come true as Steiner brings us rousing statements of the Marine Hymn fan fare and the Military Motif. “Yellow Streak” offers a tremendous score highlight where we bear witness the Steiner’s most inspired and powerful action writing. The Caine is tasked with safely shepherding Marine landing craft to within 1,000 yards of the beach. Instead of commanding the bridge, Queeg leaves Keith to command the bridge. The Caine comes under artillery fire and Queeg cowers in a deck crevice. Eventually Queeg panics and orders the Caine to turn back at 2,500 yards. When Maryk protests, he is relieved. Queeg then orders a yellow dye released to falsely mark 1,000 yards and we see the Caine turn tail and leave the battle. Steiner boldly opens with the Marine Hymn and Military Theme fan fares and we are taken forward with inspired synergy. What unfolds is dramatic interplay of the two military themes, and the Marine Hymn, juxtaposed by menacing phrases of the Japanese Motif, which enters ominously at 2:03. Writhing string phrases with horn calls raise the tension as Queeg cracks and we crescendo darkly on dramatic statements of the Full Speed Ahead Theme. As the Caine turns tail and runs, powerful, and damning statements of the Japanese Motif mark its ignominy.

In “The Plaque” Queeg opens up to his officers and allows himself to be vulnerable. He speaks of the difficulty of command and the need of constructive support by his officers. When none at the table speak up, we see how isolated he is, and Queeg adjourns the meeting uncomfortably. As Maryk looks upon the Caine’s dedication plague, an ethereal rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme supports the visual. “Mental Disorders” reveals Keefer relating to Maryk and Keith that he believes Queeg is mentally ill. Maryk disagrees and when Keefer persists, he loses his temper, pulls out a Bible and angrily swears on it that he will inform the Captain if Keefer ever brings it up again. A dark string sustain unleashes strings feroce, which crescendo on the Full Speed Ahead Theme, informing us of Maryk’s rage and threat to Keefer. At 0:25 we scene change to Maryk in his cabin reading a book titled “Mental Disorders”. Eerie and forlorn woodwind figures join with dark utterances of the Stress Motif as Maryk begins notations in a Medical Log regarding Queeg’s behavior. A final scene change occurs at 1:05 where we see a raving Queeg stop a movie that the crew is watching, and then deny them any more for 30 days. We see a swelling paranoiac madness in Queeg’s eyes and Steiner speaks to this with a truly disturbing and frenzied crescendo on strings.

“Queeg Rants” is a score highlight where Steiner unleashes a riveting psychological tour de force. Captain Queeg has ordered battle simulation drills to improve ship readiness. We open with dark and forlorn horn declarations of the Military Theme, which unleash a bravado performance of the Full Speed Ahead Theme as the ship performs its drill. At 0:43 he begins to rave to his officers when he sees men lacking vests and helmets. He cancels leave for all such men, but when crewmates pass them vests and helmets he fulminates, and unleashes a tirade where he cancels all leave for three months, screaming that he will not be made a fool. Steiner speaks to his ravings with frenzied string ascents and a swelling orchestral dissonance, which mutates the Full Speed Ahead and Military Themes into truly grotesque renderings – an outward manifestation of Queeg’s mind. We dissipate upon a diminuendo with a forlorn Stress Motif. In “Berries, Anyone?” strawberries are missing from the panty and Queeg orders at 1 am a full investigation to find the thief. Steiner provides a forlorn rendering of the Stress Motif, and a tortured, barley recognizable Military Theme to support the scene.

In “On The Bible” Queeg seeks to recreate a personal triumph of his early days by finding a key he believes was used to open the pantry. He orders Maryk to strip search of the entire crew to find the key. Keefer is aghast and confronts Maryk, arguing that the Captain is mad and that they need to exercise Article 84 of the Naval Regulations to relieve him of command. Steiner expertly writes to the psychology of Queeg’s madness, not the argument of the two officers. A tortured Stress Motif opens the scene on solo cello and is followed by a forlorn Full Speed Ahead Theme, which becomes plaintive as Maryk reads the regulations. We close darkly on the Military Theme as Maryk begins to think of the unthinkable. Later, Harding has been granted leave to visit his ailing wife. As he leaves he informs Maryk, Keith and Keefer that there is no key, and that he saw the mess boys eat the strawberries. He relates that when he informed the Captain, Queeg called him a liar, and threatened to deny his leave. In “See Halsey” Maryk believes this revelation is the last straw, and decides to visit Admiral Halsey. The Stress Theme initiates their journey with the Military Theme supporting their skiff ride. A solemn Full Speed Ahead Theme supports their arrival at the carrier. As they reach the deck trumpets declare revelry and launch a rousing rendering of the Full Speed Ahead Theme as the crew of the Enterprise make preparations to depart. At 2:13 as revelry trumpets continue to sound Keefer loses his nerve and counsels that they not go through with the meeting, as no one will believe them. A string sustain supports Maryk and Keith, who are stunned. Steiner sows tension with repeating dire phrases of the Military Theme that are joined by the Stress Motif. The cue ends darkly when Maryk relents as Keefer turns back.

In “Storm Warning” we are offered another score highlight where Steiner whips his orchestra into storm fury. We open with a dramatic string propelled prelude, from which arises the Full Speed Ahead Theme as we see the crew of the Caine batten down the ship for bad weather. Tremolo strings woodwinds and harp glissandi support scenes of the coming storm, becoming increasing dissonant as Steiner sows tension. As the ship enters the storm and is buffeted, so to is the Full Speed Ahead Theme buffeted by repeating dire statements of the Stress Motif. Steiner chose to not score the dramatic scene of the mutiny. Soon the ship begins to founder and suffer damage pummeled by the severe waves and winds of the typhoon. Queeg refuses to turn the ship into the wind to mitigate the waves buffeting the ship, insistent on maintaining course 180 to stay with the task force. When the ship almost rolls and he freezes, Maryk relieves him of his command under Article 184 of Naval Regulations and turns the ship into the wind on course 000. He calls all officers to the bridge and his decision is supported, to which Queeg declares defiantly that they will all hang. Maryk takes the Caine back to San Francisco where they will stand trial for mutiny.

“Phone May” reveals dire declarations of the Full Speed Ahead Theme as Keith receives a call from New York. Steiner supports their call with a sumptuous rendering of the Love Theme, which features an exquisite passage by solo violin. Willie attests his undying love for her and regrets that they did not marry, while she sadly says that, they are over. At 1:41 martial fanfare brings us to the Judge Advocate’s office where Keith, Keefer and Maryk meet their defense attorney Greenwald. In “Greenwald Takes Case” Maryk and Keith are able to persuade Greenwald to take up their defense. We open tentatively upon the Full Speed Ahead Theme, which asserts itself with confidence when Greenwald agrees. Steiner chose not to score the dialogue intense trial, which ends with Queeg having a mental breakdown on the witness stand. The Court is aghast and acquits Maryk and Keith. Later as the men celebrate Greenwald rails against the officers for not doing more to support their captain, and closes by tossing champagne with contempt at Keefer, the dishonorable architect of the mutiny. We close with “End Title” where a newly married Keith joins his new ship under the command of his former Captain De Vriess, who honors him with the command to take her out to sea. Steiner supports the scene with the Full Speed Ahead Theme replete with the Military Theme fan fare, which builds to a grand statement to conclude the film with proud patriotic fever!

Please allow me to thank Douglass Fake, Roger Feigelson and Intrada for this long sought restoration of Max Steiner’s Oscar nominated score to “The Caine Mutiny”. The editing, mastering, and DDP mastering result in a wonderful restoration of the score. The reader is however counseled that although the recording does not realize 24-Bit 96kHz digital sound, it never the less delivers good sound quality, which did not diminish my listening experience. The Caine Mutiny unfolded as a dialogue heavy and character driven film, as such Steiner’s challenges were formidable. But once again he rose to the challenge and created rousing and patriotic music, which spoke to the film’s wartime setting. Indeed his music infused vital energy into the film’s narrative, which help propel its narrative. Also instructive is how his music spoke to the tension between the men and Queeg, as well as to Queeg’s worsening paranoia. The romantic subplot was also expertly supported, by a beautiful contemporaneous love theme, which provided a wonderful juxtaposition to the intense drama. I believe Steiner provided a fine effort, which fit the film like a glove. The score was rousing when it was needed, stressful when the tense character interactions required, and correctly absent during the film’s most riveting scenes. This score offers testimony to Steiner’s mastery of his craft, and I highly recommend that you buy this long sought and treasured Steiner score for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar have embedded a YouTube link to the rousing Full Speed Ahead March: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArLCttUWcUU

Buy the Caine Mutiny soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (4:02)
  • I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me (Vocal) (1:32)
  • I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me (Instrumental) (1:51)
  • Keith Meets Navy (1:16)
  • Top To Bottom (2:43)
  • Lost Paravane (4:47)
  • Meet Queeg (1:02)
  • De Vriess Leaves (0:42)
  • Off To Target (0:31)
  • Shirt Tail (2:17)
  • To The Barn (1:00)
  • Mother Meets May (1:35)
  • Love In The Valley (4:42)
  • Escort Jacob (0:51)
  • Yellow Streak (4:25)
  • The Plaque (0:20)
  • Mental Disorders (1:26)
  • Queeg Rants (3:16)
  • Berries, Anyone? (0:32)
  • On The Bible (1:05)
  • See Halsey (3:47)
  • Storm Warning (1:54)
  • Phone May (2:13)
  • Greenwald Takes Case (0:40)
  • End Title (2:03)
  • Main Title/I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me (Vocal) (5:32) – BONUS
  • Bos’n Whistle (0:11) – BONUS
  • He’s A Jolly Good Fellow (0:36) – BONUS

Running Time: 53 minutes 25 seconds

Intrada ISC-382 (1954/2017)

Music composed by Max Steiner. Conducted by Morris Stoloff. Orchestrations by Murray Cutter. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

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