Re-Review: Mister Roberts

Hey everyone I am so glad to be doing my first blogathon of the year (and decade) and there is no better way to start a new decade than to re-do a review of one of my favorite films 1955’s Mister Roberts. Be sure to check out the Out to the Sea Blogathon, and thanks to Moon in Gemini for Hosting!

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When I first reviewed Mister Roberts I was so fresh to film blogging and while its, well OK, I wanted to take this opportunity and re-do it.

Mister Roberts is based of the Broadway play of the same name in which the ship Reluctant (or The Bucket) is stuck on the Pacific Ocean during the end of World War II. The members on board are getting bored, but are never out of eye of the tight supervision of the Captain. With its colorful crew of clashing personalities, hilarious hi-jinks inevitably occurs.

Mister Roberts has a fascinating behind the scenes story: 2 (technically 3, with Joshua Logan un-credited) directors, a fallout and end of one of the most successful actor-director collaborations, a film that has viewers wondering who directed what; and yet against all odds- it’s a film that is so well done. And I mean everything from the stage to screen adaption, to the wonderful performances, right down to the humorous tone is just so delightful to watch.

The most defying element about this film is the success it had when John Ford stepped down as director and Mervyn Leroy took over. I declare we will never know the exact reason why Ford was replaced: there are reports of an emergency gallbladder surgery, and the punching Henry Fonda incident (maybe its both). If it were any other film, Ford’s departure would make it a failure, but what saved Mister Robets from failing was A- The source material and B- the cast- which just proved how crucial their casting was.

The cast is perhaps the best thing about this film: Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, William Powell, and James Cagney (not to mention Ford stock regulars Ward Bond and Harey Carey Jr) are all just so electrifyingly perfect. They gel in a way that one might not expect, as all of these men were used to being the leading man in their pictures. Their camaraderie on set as evidenced by this picture really translated to their roles and you really believe these guys are all stuck on a ship together.

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I for one love the scene in which Doc (Powell) helps Pulver (Lemmon) make homemade scotch to impress the nurses- who else would be able to do that other than Mr. Nick Charles himself!!! I smile about it every time I watch it, and it’s a nice little callback to Powell’s most famous role. Moreover, who could forget Patrick Wayne’s small but memorable role of young recruit Booksy- I admit the first time I watched I didn’t realize it was Patrick, he was so young; this was even before The Searchers and I failed recognize him!!!

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Doc “Nick Charles” making Scotch.. What Else!?

And then there is the plant gag: that stupid but beloved plant just gives the movie an unexpected funny edge. Every time that plant gets tossed, I just can’t help but laugh, and watching Cagney’s reaction is equally as amusing. Of course, I can’t forget Mr Henry Fonda: no one but him could have played this role, and I cant believe he almost didn’t reprise this role. I don’t even wanna think about him being replaced with Marlon Brando or William Holden (Still love ya Bill!). Fonda holds the film together with Mister Roberts being the go to guy for all the characters. The ending scene with the crew gathered round to read his letter gets me emotional no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

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The Captain with his Pride and Joy

Moreover, what’s also great about this film is that it’s a ‘war movie’ for people who don’t like war movies. Not one battle scene or dipiction of gruesome imagery exists in this film, and I wish more movies could be done in this manner. It’s all about context and atmosphere of war and not necessarily what you see, but what you feel.

Overall, on a personal level, I cant get enough of this film. I don’t care is it’s not “John Ford” enough for a John Ford film: it’s just a darn good movie that deserves multiple viewings. The cast is perfect and the humor is impeccably on point. There isn’t another film quite like it out there and I am glad that in a sea of movies, it stands out in the crowd.

The Big Street 1942

February 2019 kicks off with the Fondathon hosted by the cool blog Sat in Your Lap and I had to write for this one because my love for Henry Fonda started when I was very young. However, instead of writing about my love for the movie that made me love him, I decided to write a piece about a film that is an oddball with still great performances: 1942’s The Big Street co-starring Lucille Ball.

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The Big Street is based off a short story called Little Pinks, which is the nickname for Henry Fonda’s character (real name Augustus Pinkerton II). The plot is a bit looney: demanding showgirl Gloria Lyons (Lucy) becomes paralyzed after her nightclub owner boyfriend Case Ables (Barton Maclane) pushes her down a flight of stairs after a show. Left with no money after medical expenses, she then relies on busboy Pinks to take care of her.

Pinks takes care of her out of the goodness of his heart and even though he is treated poorly by Gloria- he never wavers to be there for her. He even calls Gloria “Her Highness” when attending to her and his devotion goes so far as to push Gloria in her wheelchair from New York to Florida- that’s right, push her wheelchair– so she can recuperate in better weather.

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(credit Pinterest)

Now reading what I just said, some of you may think, “who wants to watch Henry Fonda be treated like a slave and put up with it“, however, I believe below the surface there’s a lot of depth to the characters of Gloria and Pinks; and that this movie proves Lucille Ball is a real actress- as her character is so unlikable.

I truly can see in this movie that Gloria does care for and may even like Pinks- in a very, very elementary-school I like you but am too proud to say it way. Gloria is a showgirl, and has that attitude of one. Pinks is a humble busboy and shows undying loyalty. The best example of this is when after he leaves Gloria’s service to return to being a busboy once in Florida he rushes back to her side once she becomes seriously ill.

In all honesty- I’m not even sure what makes this movie watchable, but it is. Maybe its the character actor supporting cast (including Agnes Moorhead), or maybe Henry Fonda saves the day with devotion and adorableness. Personally, for me, what makes it worth watching is the chemistry that is evident between Ball and Fonda- it’s what made me want to see this one in the first place. Its not like the connection in Yours, Mine, and Ours (their 1968 reunion film) but there is something between them that is so clearly present in their scenes together- no matter how badly Pinks is being treated. (NOTE: I’m not sure if this is due to the fact they dated before this movie was made- but I think it’s evident Fonda still had a crush on her in real life)

All in all- the film does deliver with good performances and is worth checking out- even once. And when all is said and done- it’s young Henry Fonda- and that’s always worth a watch!

Film review Mister Roberts (1955)

My First post of the new year brings me back to those film reviews I’ve been promising! This one will be about 1955’s Mister Roberts.

Featuring an all star cast- Henry Fonda, William Powell, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon (who for this role, won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars that year), Mister Roberts is one of the funniest World War II movies ever made. It has no combat scenes, no trenches, and no gun shots, yet the film still creates the feel of the on going World War.

For me personally, I watched this film for William Powell (this film is his final screen appearance), but it wasn’t long into watching before I started to adore the other actors too! Henry Fonda is really good (looking.. ahem πŸ˜‰ ) and Jack Lemmon cracked me up! James Cagney, although playing the “bossy” boss also gives a wonderful performance.

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The entire film takes place on a cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific (titled Reluctant). Each one of the main characters has their own mini subplot while being stuck on the ship. Henry Fonda plays the title character who longs to be a part of the action, Jack Lemmon plays his “buddy” and prankster Ensign Frank Pulver (who wants to lighten up the mood), while William Powell plays their fatherly figure “Doc”. James Cagney rounds out the cast as the ship’s uptight and stern Captain whose number one priority is his beloved Palm tree.

One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie has to be the scene where Doc makes scotch for Pulver (in order to impress a nurse at the base of an unnamed South Pacific island). After all, who else would you trust to make you some home made alcohol other than Mr. Nick Charles himself πŸ˜‰

I don’t want to giveaway the ending, but I will say that there is a bit of an unexpected shock that comes to one of our characters. Every time I watch, I know its coming and yet I still have the same reaction upon seeing it unfold.

An interesting note about this film is the behind the scenes problems between Director John Ford and Henry Fonda. The two men have worked together previously (and in some of the best films ever made too- My Darling Clementine and The Grapes of WrathΒ for starters), but for Fonda, the final straw came when Ford punched him in the jaw. According to IMDB, it was then (along with Ford’s emergency gallbladder operation) that the director had to be replaced with Mervyn LeRoy – and to this day there is speculation as to who directed what.

I for one sure can’t tell the difference between the two- and sometimes wonder what made Ford and Fonda part company- as they never worked together again. Yet another secret behind the mysterious nature of John Ford.

In the end, I feel everyone should give Mister Roberts a chance- even though it’s considered a “guy” comedy- I say it has something for everyone (ladies there’s four classic leading men in uniform!!!) ….

…..And it definitely teaches the best method of how to get rid of your boss’s precious (but irritating) foliage!