(In French, On Cable TV, October 2018) The history of mutinies in the US Navy is a very short one, making The Caine Mutiny an even more interesting depiction of sailors rebelling against their captain. Adapted from the Herman Wouk novel, this film steadily cranks up the pressure as crewmembers of the Cain grow increasingly concerned with the mental stability of their commanding officer. (He’s played by none other than Humphrey Bogart, in a somewhat atypical role as a weak and cowering character.) It culminates in mutiny … but the film has quite a bit longer to go before being over, and it’s that third act that proves perhaps the most interesting portion of the film. Because after the mutiny comes the reckoning, as our rebellious protagonists face martial court for their actions. That’s when a lawyer (ably played by Miguel Ferrer) takes care of the mutineers, long enough to get them a fair or suspended sentence but also to deliver a terrific post-judgment speech explaining in detail how much he loathes them for what they’ve done. The Caine Mutiny also manages a terrific overturning of familiar expectations by making a semi-villain (or at least a weakling) out of its novelist character. Fictional writers being written by real writers usually means that most writers in any kind of novel/movie are usually semi-virtuous canny observers. Not here, as Wouk avatar Fred MacMurray turns out to be a coward and pointed out as such. Such overturning of expectations makes the film as good as it is, pointing out that mutinies aren’t necessarily admirable or glorious even when there’s a reasonable doubt of their necessity. The Caine Mutiny is not a short film, but it does put us on the bridge during a very tense situation, and then plays out the consequences.
(On TV, June 2018) Like many, I like film noir a lot, and Double Indemnity is like mainlining a strong hit of the stuff. Pure undiluted deliciousness, with black-and-white cinematography, unusual investigator, femme fatale, crackling dialogue, strong narration and bleak outlook. Here, the focus on insurance agents trying to figure out a murder mystery is unusual enough to be interesting, while the Los Angeles setting is an instant classic. Fred MacMurray is a great anti-hero (morally flawed, but almost unexplainably likable along the way), Barbara Stanwyck is dangerously alluring and Edward G. Robinson is the moral anchor of the film. Double Indemnity does have that moment-to-moment watching compulsion that great movies have—whether it’s the details of an insurance firm, dialogue along the lines of the classic “There’s a speed limit in this state” exchange, a trip at the grocery store, or the careful composition of a noir film before they even had realized that there was a film noir genre. Double Indemnity is absorbing viewing, and a clear success for director Billy Wilder, gifted with a Raymond Chandler script from a James M. Cain novel.