Mister Roberts (1955)

roberts

Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, William Powell (in his final film)

Director: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy (who replaced him midshoot) & Joshua Logan (who did uncredited reshoots)

Summary: A naval officer longing for active duty clashes with his vainglorious captain

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Lemmon)*, Sound Recording

Positives

-It’s consistently entertaining throughout with most of the jokes working, even if it never becomes anything great. I was never bored throughout the two hours, and that’s an accomplishment

-The four main actors range from good to great. Fonda is consistently solid as always, reprising the role he won a Tony for; Powell is great to see after all these years and still retains his charm; Lemmon makes a strong impression playing a firecracker of a character who brings a lot of manic energy to the film and I look forward to seeing him in starring roles down the road; finally, Cagney is my favorite in the movie playing a tyrannical naval captain (the second time we’ve seen one in as many years) and he basically chews as much scenery as possible and he’s a glorious cartoon character.

Negatives

-The ending is pretty jarring. The whole movie has one tone throughout, then it takes a sharp turn in the opposite direction just before the end before whiplashing back into the original direction all in the course of about a minute. I don’t think the tone shift worked, but it’s made worse by immediately ignoring it as we go to credits.

-As mentioned before, it’s consistently good but never gets beyond that. There were no especially memorable moments for me.

Other Stuff

-This movie was a strange project for Ford, considering this is a light comedy for the most part; I guess his reason was that he had been in the Navy and was friends with Fonda. Ford was notorious as a brutal director to his actors, abusing them to get the performances he wanted out them. He immediately clashed with Cagney (when they met for the first time at the airport, Ford warned him they would “tangle asses” and this set the tone from the start), and surprisingly Fonda who had made numerous films with Ford before. Fonda resented Ford trying to give extensive direction to him, considering he won the Tony for the role on Broadway and had been playing it for 5 years. Any possibility of Ford continuing on the project ended when he sucker punched Fonda in the mouth after an argument on set.

Overall

Genuinely enjoyable comedy with heart to it with a wonderful cast of (at that time) past, present and future leading men.

Rating: B

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