IS THE RIGID discipline and unquestioned obedience of the military a necessary evil in wartime or is it the breeding ground for the worst sorts of injustice? A number of memorable films about courts martial have tried to crack this very dilemma. Consider Rob Reiner’s 1992 classic A Few Good Men. But for seriously riveting courtroom drama, here are few older flicks you might have missed that we think do an even better job sorting out such weighty issues.
The Caine Mutiny
Set in the Pacific during the Second World War, The Caine Mutiny (1954) focuses on a war of nerves between the officers and newly appointed skipper of an American mine sweeper, the U.S.S. Caine. After realizing their new captain, Lt. Cmdr. Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), is showing signs of a madness, the officers of the vessel are forced to contemplate removing him from command. When Queeg finally goes to pieces in a crisis, his second in command has no choice but to take control of the vessel. Back in port, the unbalanced Queeg strikes back at his men, charging them with mutiny. Told through the eyes of a newly-minted ensign, the drama is sidetracked by a romantic sub-plot involving the junior officer and a mainland sweetheart. Yet overall the movie makes for good watching and includes a remarkable performance from Bogart as well as Fred MacMurray who really shines as the Caine’s wise-cracking (and self-serving) communications officer.
Nominated for an Academy Award, Breaker Morant is a 1980 Australian picture about the court martial of a trio Aussie cavalry officers in the Boer War. The three are railroaded by English generals for their part in the summary execution of a band of guerrillas who are caught after massacring some British troops. But things get sticky when it’s revealed that the Australians were merely following an unofficial directive not to take prisoners. The film capably explores more than just the bad blood that existed between colonial Australians and Great Britain, while raising some intriguing questions about morality in wartime. While the themes are timeless, the entire movie enjoys a newfound currency considering the similarities between a conflict like the Boer War and the current fighting in Afghanistan. Starring Edward Woodward as Morant and Bryan Brown, Breaker Morant will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching it.
Paths of Glory
The defendants in Stanly Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) are also victimized by the military justice system. In this classic First World War courtroom drama, three French soldiers are chosen at random to pay with their lives for their regiment’s supposed failure to capture an impregnable German-occupied ridge. Rather than conceding that the abortive attack was hopeless from the start, one negligent French general shifts the blame for the entire fiasco onto his men. Kirk Douglas plays the officer tasked with representing the luckless trio of infantrymen who are selected to be shot as an example. Of course it’s mission impossible; the generals presiding over the trial want anything but justice. Aside from a sizzling script and brilliant performances, the film features one of the most difficult to watch five minutes in cinematic history.
Did we miss your favourite movie about military trials? Let us know your picks. Enter a comment below.