Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mister Roberts (1955)

Directors: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy, Joshua Logan

Writers: Frank S. Nugent, Joshua Logan, Thomas Heggen

Composer: Franz Waxman

Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Philip Carey, Nick Adams, Perry Lopez, Ken Curtis, Robert Roark, Harry Carey Jr., Patrick Wayne, Frank Aletter

More info: IMDb

Tagline: All the Uproarious Fun of the Smash Broadway Play!

Plot: Mister Roberts is aboard a US cargo ship, working in the Pacific during the Second World War. He'd do anything to leave the quiet of the ship to join in the "action". Trouble is, the captain of the ship, is a bit of a tyrant, and isn't willing to sign Roberts' transfer requests. Also on board is Ensign Pulver, who avoids work as best he can, whilst living off the riches of his buying and selling. Roberts and the crew are in constant battle, even over the smallest of disagreements.

My rating:7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

I've always been only sort of fond of this picture and it's because of the uneven humor.  There's a reason why the comedy is often too broad and that's because of the issues Fonda had with the original director, Ford.  Ford painted the comedy with broad strokes and Fonda, having played the role on Broadway, felt it was too much (I agree).  Ford was ousted and another director was brought in to finish the picture.  While I really dig the actors, the performances aren't in synch with one another.  James Cagney is playing this as a comedy and maybe just a little too much.  But at the same time he's also got all the weight of a first class actor to make his moments matter.  When he goes off on Roberts (Ford) he's a real tough customer and I cringe a little at the thought of working under such a bastard.  Ford does a great job of conveying frustration and his performance is almost a home run.  Then there's Lemmon who's the most over the top of the lot. But for my money, it's when he's playing it more serious and down to Earth that he shines.  The thing is, these three actors deliver a top notch performance but they're often playing them in seemingly different films.  The uneven comedy aside, the supporting actors like Powell and Bond do a fantastic job and they fit right in regardless of the film's tone.  And that ending hits me in the guts every time.  The Warner Bros. DVD comes with a few extras including a commentary track with Jack Lemmon, Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (14 minutes) with Fonda, Cagney and Lemmon as they recreate some scenes from the film (REALLY neat), a 3 minute short film from the Henry Fonda Kennedy Center Honors and the theatrical trailer (anamorphic widescreen).  It's a damn shame there isn't more but the Lemmon commentary sounds like it could be a blast.  Considering the production issues with Ford and such, this picture could use a solid making of documentary.  I think that could go a long way into making this picture easier to see for what various folks tried to make it. 

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