"The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" opened at the Plymouth Theater on January 20, 1954, and ran for 415 performances starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan.
Humphrey Bogart's tour-de-force performance in the climactic courtroom scene was so powerful that it completely captivated the onlooking film technicians and crewmen. After the scene's completion, the company gave Bogart a round of thunderous applause.
Stanley Kramer gave Fred MacMurray a prominent role in this movie during a difficult period in the actor's life - his wife had just died - and work was a needed distraction for him.
Lee Marvin, who served in the United States Marine Corps and knew a great deal about ships at sea, served double duty by also lending his expertise on military matters.
José Ferrer's role as the defense attorney was played on stage by Henry Fonda. Ferrer would later play defense attorney Abe Fortas to Fonda as Clarence Earl Gideon in Gideon's Trumpet.
Actress May Wynn (real name: Donna Lee Hickey) adopted the name of her character in this movie, May Wynn, as her stage name, and made eight more films under that name. In the novel, May Wynn is itself a stage name.
Additional (and uncredited) dialog was provided by blacklisted writer Michael Blankfort.
An October 1952 New York Times item revealed that there were two scripts prepared for Stanley Kramer, one that included "Willie" and "May's" romance and another, shorter version that only included action on the Caine and the court-martial.
Columbia Pictures was determined to hire Humphrey Bogart for the top role of Capt. Queeg, and Bogart was enthusiastic about playing it, but the Columbia brass did not want to pay him his top salary. Bogart was rather miffed at this, complaining to wife Lauren Bacall, "This never happens to Gary Cooper, or Cary Grant or Clark Gable, but always to me." Bogart correctly figured that Harry Cohn and company knew that Bogart wanted to play the part so fervently that he would agree to take less money rather than surrender the part to someone else.
Despite the accolades and impressive box-office receipts, director Edward Dmytryk felt that the film could have been even better. In "Stanley Kramer: Filmmaker" by Donald Spoto, Dmytryk said, "...it's a disappointment in my career, to tell the truth. I insist it could have been a classic ... but Kramer, who (with Dore Schary) is the most publicity-conscious man in the industry, got high-handed with Harry Cohn, and in fact had to toe the line ... Stanley Roberts' original script was about 190 pages, even without the romantic subplot ... It should have remained that - a three and one-half or four-hour picture - and it would have been more logically developed, the characters would have been further fleshed out. It would have been perfect."
Director Edward Dmytryk noted in his autobiography that Wouk's initial contribution to the script was "a disaster" and that Stanley Roberts then took over the rewrite; Wouk is only credited on screen as the author of the novel on which the film is based. Dmytryk also stated that he was unaware of studio head Harry Cohn's strict insistence that Columbia films run no longer than 2 hours and indicated that Roberts quit over the stipulated cuts required to bring the screenplay down to fit the time requirement. The final screenplay was trimmed by nearly fifty pages by writer Michael Blankfort, who is credited on screen with "additional dialog."
In the novel the Caine is a WWI vintage "flush deck" destroyer with 4 smokestacks. Since ships of this type were very scarce after WWII, the producers used a more modern WWII vintage ship.
Most of the Hollywood studios wouldn't touch Herman Wouk's best-seller because they knew that the only way they could make the film would be with the full cooperation of the Department of Defense, which would insist on making sweeping changes to the film (the DOD was openly critical of Wouk's depiction of the Navy). Undeterred, independent producer Stanley Kramer optioned the novel for $60,000. Once the novel won the Pulitzer Prize, the DOD had to soften its attitude towards the novel, given its huge popularity. It eventually approved Kramer's submitted screenplay treatment in 1952.
One of 1954's biggest money makers, second only to White Christmas, which featured José Ferrer's wife, Rosemary Clooney.
One of the biggest hits in Columbia's history, raking up a box office gross of $8.7 million in its first run.
Preparations for filming took 15 months. The length of time it took to make the film, unusually long at the time, was due in part to the unwillingness of the US Navy to endorse the film. Without the Navy's endorsement, it would have been impossible for the filmmakers to use naval equipment and personnel. The Navy was concerned that the film's subject dealt with a mutiny, and that audience would feel that it was a true story. But the filmmakers reached a compromise upon agreeing to include the comment in the opening titles that there has never been a mutiny on a US Navy vessel.
Producer Stanley Kramer and director Edward Dmytryk cast Lee Marvin as one of the USS Caine's supporting sailors, not only for his knowledge of ships at sea but for his acting talent. Throughout the production, Marvin served as an unofficial technical advisor to the filmmakers. Sometimes a shot would be set up, only to be criticized by Marvin as being inauthentic.
The abortive visit to Adm. William F. Halsey was filmed on the USS Kearsarge (CV 33) which, at the time, had been decommissioned for extensive modernization work.
The fact that the right hand of José Ferrer's character, attorney Barney Greenwald, is bandaged throughout his appearance in the film, is neither noted nor explained. In the novel, it's because he injured it flying as a Navy pilot.