(director: John Ford/Mervyn LeRoy; screenwriters: Frank Nugent/Joshua Logan/from the novel by Thomas Heggen and the play by Thomas Heggen & Joshua Logan; cinematographer: Winton Hoch; editor: Jack Murray; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Henry Fonda (Lieutenant Roberts), James Cagney (The Captain), William Powell (Doc), Jack Lemmon (Ensign Pulver), Betsy Palmer (Lieutenant Ann Girard), Ward Bond (CPO Dowdy), Phil Carey (Mannion), Ken Curtis (Dolan), Nick Adams (Reber), Harry Carey, Jr. (Stefanowski); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leland Hayward; Warner Home Video; 1955)
“The success of the uninspired movie is a testament to star performances from the talented cast rather than to the film’s directors.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mister Roberts is the film version of Thomas Heggen’s hit Broadway play. The comedy was directed by John Ford, who bowed out midway due to a supposed illness and was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy. Joshua Logan, who directed the play, also was the uncredited director of several scenes. Jack Lemmon won Best Supporting Actor. The success of the uninspired movie is a testament to star performances from the talented cast rather than to the film’s directors.

The film is set in the Pacific during the waning days of WWII on a cargo ship called the “Reluctant,” affectionately known as the “Bucket.” It’s run by martinet captain (James Cagney), a stickler for minor details and someone who is all about getting a promotion. The film’s hero is cargo officer Lieutenant Roberts, who desperately wants to see action. His letters for a transfer request are regularly turned down by the captain. William Powell (his last film role) is the ship’s cynical middle-aged doctor. Jack Lemmon plays Ensign Pulver, who’s in charge of laundry and morale and is the ship’s joker (he will blow up the laundry room with firecrackers to gain approval from his idol Mr. Roberts).

The crew is bored, hate their pompous captain and are happy that Lt. Roberts always sides with them. The Captain once received a palm tree from an admiral as an award for excellence, which has become his pride and joy. Mr. Roberts, in an act of defiance, will toss it overboard. This comes after the men begin to question his loyalty to them when they note his change of attitude after an incident when the men go wild on an unauthorized liberty. The other big adventure for the crew is when Pulver brings some nurses aboard the ship.

Mister Roberts had an inferior sequel, Ensign Pulver (1964), as well as a 1965 TV sitcom.

Mister Roberts Poster