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Sailing the USS "Reluctant" from apathy to tedium, boldly delivering toothpaste and toilet paper during Pacific War...
on 29 November 2013
This is a brilliant war-time comedy with some more serious elements included towards the end. Below more of my impressions, with some limited spoilers.
"Mister Roberts" was first a novel, written in 1946 by Thomas Heggen, a young veteran of Pacific War, just discharged after serving succesively on board of two auxiliary warships, attack cargo ship USS "Virgo" and cargo ship USS "Rotanin". This brilliantly written and hilariously funny book became instantly a bestseller and in 1948 was adapted into a Broadway play, already with Henry Fonda in the main role. The production run for 1157 performances and finally in 1955 Hollywood produced a film version.
2. The film.
I do not want to reveal too much about the story, so let's just say that everything happens on board of a cargo ship requisitioned for duration of war by US Navy and named USS "Reluctant" - quite obviously in reality there never was a US Navy ship carrying such a name... The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Morton (James Cagney) is a petty tyrant, of limited intellect and ability and as ridiculous as he is vicious, but certainly decided to make the life of everybody on board a living hell, when in the same time obsequiously crawling in front of any superior officer.
Morton relies for most of real work on his very able executive officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Douglas Roberts (Henry Fonda), whom everybody adresses with the utmost respect as "Mister Roberts". Two more characters are important - an annoying, slightly pathetic slacker and self proclaimed Casanova, Ensign Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon) and an aging medical officer, a Lieutenant we know only as "Doc" (William Powell). The role of Ensign Pulver brought to Jack Lemmon his first Oscar (Best Supporting Role) and this character is certainly something you don't see every day...)))
Two more things play an important role in this film: a palm that Morton received as trophy from the Admiral for delivering "more toothpaste and toilet paper than any other cargo ship in the whole Pacific theater" and Mister Roberts repeated, daily requests for a transfer to a destroyer, as he simply cannot stand anymore to stay on board of the USS "Reluctant" and delivering toilet paper when a real war is fought by others...
3. My impressions
This is a masterpiece of comedy, subtly mixed with some drama. Watching it was a delight and I guarantee that quite soon in the film you will get emotionally involved: you will root for Mister Roberts, the "Doc" and the whole crew, you will want to bitchslap a couple of times Ensing Pulver and you will certainly want to STRANGLE Morton - if possible after sticking his infamous palm tree up his bum...)))
The humour shown in this film is very, very superior to most of things we can see nowadays on the screen as it relies mostly on brilliant dialogs, avoids foul language and is especially very humane and much gentler than what we can see in so many modern "comedies" - even the abominable Morton is more a moron than a monster and at some moments we are more enclined to feel pity for him than pure hatred...
The best comic moments are those during the liberty granted finally to the crew on a French controlled tropical island - believe me, you WANT to see this part!
Towards the end the film becomes for a moment more serious - and actually that only adds to its charm...
Bottom line, this is a GREAT moment of cinema! Grab some popcorn in one hand and Morton's palm tree in the other and sail with USS "Reluctant" to the Pacific to travel "from apathy to tedium with occasional side trips to monotony and ennui", when in the same ROARING with laughter. Enjoy!