May 18, 2019

"APOLOGY"?:

Herman Wouk obituary: Author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War who championed traditional Jewish values and American patriotism (Eric Homberger,  17 May 2019, The Guardian)

Wouk, who has died aged 103, was an award-winning novelist whose books were made into Hollywood movies, a playwright and an author of screenplays. He wrote books about Judaism and modern belief. Throughout, he voiced a conservative view of ethics and morality that remained largely unamended in the course of a writing career of more than six decades.

The Caine Mutiny (1951), awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction, was made into a popular movie by Edward Dmytryk in 1954. In the role of the paranoid Captain Queeg, Humphrey Bogart gave one of his most mesmerising performances. The interrogation scene, with Bogart twisting ball bearings in his hand while breaking down under the questioning of the defence attorney Lt Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer), would have made a powerful end to the film. But the last scene, the celebration dinner for the acquitted defendants Maryk and Keith, accused of mutiny through relieving Queeg of his command when the minesweeper USS Caine was at risk of sinking during a typhoon, brought a different meaning to the story.

Greenwald's drunken speech in praise of Queeg and disdain for Lt Keefer (Fred MacMurray), who had encouraged Maryk and Keith, gave a moral victory to career navy men. It was the regulars like Queeg, "standing guard on this fat, dumb and happy country of ours", who saved Greenwald's mother, a "little gray-headed Jewish lady", from being melted down into a bar of soap.

Greenwald's speech made vivid theatre when Wouk's stage play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, opened in New York in 1954, with Henry Fonda playing Greenwald. Dmytryk, Bogart and Ferrer had all come to the attention of the House Un-American Activities committee, seeking out political subversion, and Wouk's story provided impeccable conservative cover for them.

Wouk actually meant what Greenwald said. His conservative social and political attitudes and religious faith made him an atypical figure in American Jewish life after the second world war. He was an orthodox Jew, a Republican, a patriot and a sharp critic of assimilation. His novel Marjorie Morningstar (1955) ended with the renunciation of worldly ambition by a New York Jewish girl, and with an affirmation of marriage, suburbia, family and duty. It was one of the last moments when such a novel might have been written without apology, and published without embarrassment.

Maybe that's why people read him and not his peers?

Posted by at May 18, 2019 4:45 AM

  

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