Friday, June 02, 2006

Mister Roberts

MISTER ROBERTS was probably the quintessential film role for that quintessential American actor Henry Fonda. After an already amazing movie career that had seen Fonda star in several bona fide classics including THE LADY EVE, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT and THE GRAPES OF WRATH, Henry Fonda moved to the stage after World War II, taking on the lead in Joshua Logan’s play based on Thomas Heggan’s dramady novel, MISTER ROBERTS. The character was that of an easy-going Naval Officer who wanted nothing more than to transfer off of his cargo ship to a battleship. Along the way, we witness his day to day dealings with his tough captain and the rest of the typically lunatic crew. When Fonda did the trouble-plagued, double director film version in 1955, those other roles were ideally cast with James Cagney (as the Captain), Jack Lemmon (as Ensign Pulver who would achieve an eponymous sequel a decade later starring Robert Walker, Jr), Ward Bond (who, if you look closely, is probably in every movie ever made) and the great William Powell, lured out of an early retirement for one last plum role as "Doc."
MISTER ROBERTS, with its many memorable characters and situations, flawless performances and well-done mix of comedy and serious drama, is probably as close to a perfect film as you’ll ever see…even if Henry Fonda himself felt it too compromised from its stage version. The script and acting go a long way toward bringing out the humanity in those we send to war, a point trivialized or glossed over in more gung-ho military dramas. It was made into a watered-down (pun intended) TV series with Ann-Margaret’s husband Roger Smith in 1965 which inspired a re-release of the book.
This 1966 paperback (seen above) features a nice imitation Jack Davis cover (strangely in black and white) by someone seemingly signing the name "Bob Buzz??" Note that we even see a certain spinach-chomping sailor man at left rear for some unknown reason. The other book seen here, THE FONDAS, was one of the very first film books in my collection, circa 1975.

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