In today’s Wall Street Journal I write about the 1955 TV version of Charles Laughton’s stage version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, starring Lloyd Nolan as Queeg. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Great stage performances and productions are the sand castles of art. Unless they should happen to be filmed, it is their destiny to be washed away by the high tides of time, living on only in the fallible memories of those lucky enough to have seen them in person. Back in the ’50s, though, a handful of major Broadway stage shows were later performed in studios for live broadcast on network TV. Some of these telecasts were preserved on film and survive in museum archives and the vaults of collectors, and if you know where to go, you can obtain DVD copies of a few of them….
I recently tracked down a copy of one of the most important of these telecasts, the 1955 “Ford Star Jubilee” TV version of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a 1954 play by Herman Wouk based on the climactic episode from his Pulitzer-winning 1951 novel about life on a minesweeper in World War II. In “The Caine Mutiny,” the captain of the U.S.S. Caine is Philip Francis Queeg, a mediocre Regular Navy officer who cracks under the life-threatening strain of a typhoon and is relieved from duty by Stephen Maryk, his executive officer, who believes Captain Queeg to be mentally ill.
The play, which portrays Maryk’s court-martial for mutiny, centers on the cross-examination of Queeg by Barney Greenwald, counsel for the defense. It was a hit on Broadway, running for 415 performances, and Lloyd Nolan, a B-movie semi-star who played Queeg, received hats-off raves from every critic in town. When he died in 1985, all of the obits led with his performance as Queeg. But Nolan was passed over for the 1954 film version, in which Humphrey Bogart played Queeg, and it is Bogart’s Queeg that is remembered today, with Nolan’s relegated to the small print of theatrical history.
“Ford Star Jubilee” was a monthly series of “special events” aired by CBS that is mainly known for its final episode, the first TV showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” But the “Ford Star Jubilee” version of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” is far more significant, not only because it preserves Nolan’s performance but because it is a faithful record of the Broadway production, which was staged by Charles Laughton, who took up directing when his film career went into decline and immediately proved himself to be one of the most creative directors of the ’50s….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
To order a DVD-R of this telecast, call 800-444-2960 or go to robertsvideos.com.
The opening of the Ford Star Jubilee telecast of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: