The USS Caine is a rundown minesweeper, stationed at Pearl Harbor. Its captain, De Vreiss, is replaced by the strict, by-the-book Queeg. During sea exercises there is an embarrassing incident, there are further mistakes by the commander as the ship's duties continue, the crew become convinced that Queeg is a coward. His continued excessive behaviour leads the senior officers to believe Queeg is mentally unstable. Running into a storm Queeg endangers the ship and is relieved of his command. On return to harbor two of the officers, Maryk and Keith, are then court martialled for mutiny. Initially the trial goes badly for the officers, but Queeg goes to pieces under cross-examination. The film ends in a nasty party of the crew.
The film is based upon Herman Wouk's best-selling, and 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Wouk's novel had already been the basis for a successful nationwide stage play titled "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial."
Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg was Humphrey Bogart's last great film role, earning him his third Best Actor Academy Award nomination (one of the film's seven nominations). The film received six other nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Tom Tully), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing, and Best Dramatic Score (Max Steiner). None of the nominations won; Bogart lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.
The other main actors were Josť Ferrer, Robert Francis, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray who was cast against type as the unlikeable coward and liar Lieutenant Tom Keefer. The title role, USS Caine, was played by USS Thompson (DMS-38).
The US Navy Department initially objected to the film's depiction of a mentally unbalanced man as the captain of a naval vessel and the word "mutiny" in the film's title. After the script was altered, the Navy cooperated with Columbia Pictures by providing ships, planes, combat boats, and access to Pearl Harbor and the San Francisco port. Following the credits, the epigraph claims that the film's story is non-factual. No ship named USS Caine ever existed, and no Navy captain has been relieved of command at sea under Articles 184-186 and "There has never been a mutiny in a ship of the United States Navy. The truths of this film lie not in its incidents but in the way a few men meet the crisis of their lives."
Michael Caine (born Maurice Micklewhite) changed his name to Michael Scott when he first became an actor. He happened to be speaking to his agent in a telephone box in London's Leicester Square when he was informed that he had to change his name again because another actor was already using the name Michael Scott. His agent insisted that he come up with a new name immediately. Looking around for inspiration, he noted that The Caine Mutiny was being shown at the Odeon cinema, and so he decided to change his name to Michael Caine.