Mister Roberts (1955)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Ensemble Film, Military Comedy  |   Release Date - Jul 10, 1955 (USA)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Mister Roberts was one of the more thoughtful, reflective films from the 1950s to deal with World War II. It was a reflection of the distance filmmakers as well as the public had come from the war, a distance which allowed for a more sophisticated dramatic treatment of the conflict and the people involved. Other films during this era also reflected the new maturity, among them, The Caine Mutiny, Between Heaven and Hell, and The Naked and the Dead. Mister Roberts was the most successful of them all, and for good reason -- though getting it made properly took real work. It stood to figure that John Ford was ideal for the project, since he loved the United States Navy more than almost anything else in his life (he retired from the reserves as a rear admiral). With Mister Roberts, however, Ford may have been too close to his subject and slightly too old to do justice to the script, and he butted up against the competing personality of star Henry Fonda. Fonda had scored a huge hit on Broadway in the stage version of Mister Roberts, but he'd given up hope of ever doing the movie, since he hadn't been on-screen in eight years and major studios weren't convinced that he was still a box office draw. As a condition of directing the film, Ford insisted on Fonda to star -- but the two were at loggerheads from the beginning of the production, mainly over the director's tendency to inject rough-house comedy into his movies. Such an approach breathed life into Ford's somber cavalry movies, such as Fort Apache, but Mister Roberts was a character-driven story with very little real action, and Fonda thought the director's emphasis on laughs would destroy the integrity of the material. Ford's demanding, dictatorial directing style -- exacerbated by his excessive drinking -- created tension between the two, which erupted into a fistfight after only a few weeks' work. Ford left the production and was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy, who essentially asked the cast to use their best judgement and make the kind of movie Ford would've made. The end result is a finely textured character study that captured the best dramatic moments of the play as it interspersed an effective, new comic element. Fonda, who'd previously performed in four films for the director, would never work with Ford again; the director would only make one more navy film after Mister Roberts, the successful Donovan's Reef.