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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mister Roberts (1955)

Set in the waning days of WWII in the Pacific, the executive officer (Henry Fonda) of a cargo ship is frustrated because his requests for a transfer to a fighting ship are continually disapproved by the ship's Captain (James Cagney). Based on the hit play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan (by way of Heggen's novel) and directed by John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy and Joshua Logan. Ford began the film but antagonism between Ford and both Fonda and Cagney had him replaced by LeRoy. Logan came in to reshoot scenes at Fonda's request. I'm not a fan of military comedies in general but this is a pretty decent one. The film was a huge box office success and was Oscar nominated for best picture and Jack Lemmon won his first Oscar as Ensign Pulver. The dour Fonda makes for a mundane "hero" and he can't even laugh naturally but Cagney is terrific as the petty tyrant of a Captain and William Powell (in his final screen performance) makes for an elegant ship's doctor. I don't think the film holds up all that well. Contemporary audiences would most likely be appalled at the lecherous sailors spying on nurses taking their showers or their drunken attacks on private property while on liberty. The large cast includes Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Nick Adams, Philip Carey, Martin Milner, Patrick Wayne, Ken Curtis, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr.


  1. great review. I'm not really a fan of Henry Fonda in this movie. Not only is he too old, he lacks any drive or energy. Supposedly, he disliked Ford taking liberties with the play, including making it more comedic. If true, Ford was on the right track. BTW, I'm not really sure why Fonda got a AA nomination, other than "Hey, welcome back!" Its the supporting cast that makes the film and its too bad a younger, more dynamic actor wasn't cast.

    1. Both Marlon Brando and William Holden were sought after to play Mister Roberts. Warners thought Fonda too old plus he hadn't made a movie in 6 years. I'm not sure about Brando in the part but I think Holden (or maybe Glenn Ford) would have been a good fit.