Mister Roberts (1955)

120-121, 123 or 126 mins | Comedy-drama | 30 July 1955

Directors:

John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy

Producer:

Leland Hayward

Cinematographer:

Winton Hoch

Editor:

Jack Murray

Production Designer:

Art Loel

Production Company:

Orange Productions, Ltd.
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HISTORY

An acknowledgment and a prologue after the opening credits read: “We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the United States Navy whose men, vessels and installations in the Pacific made this motion picture possible. This story takes place in the waning days of the Second World War aboard a navy cargo ship operating in the back areas of the Pacific. In the Navy Register it is listed as THE RELUCTANT, but to its crew it is known as 'The Bucket.'” The four lead actors listed in the opening credits are not listed with the other players in the end credits. Orange Productions, Ltd. was an independent company owned by Leland Hayward and Joshua Logan, who adapted the original stage play from Thomas Heggen’s novel.
       A Feb 1953 DV news item announced that Hayward, Mister Roberts ' Broadway producer, was considering a 3-D film deal for the property. The news item predicted that neither the play’s Broadway director, Logan, nor its lead, Henry Fonda, would work on the film due to prior commitments. Although Warner Bros. production notes for the film claimed that Fonda was the “only man thought of for the title role,” modern sources state that William Holden was first offered the role of “Doug Roberts.” Holden turned it down, saying that Fonda was so identified with the role after 1,600 performances that he “owned” it.
       According to modern sources, Warner Bros. hesitated in casting Fonda because they believed he was too old for the part, and felt that he had been away from feature films long enough to be forgotten by the general public. His previous film had been the ... More Less

An acknowledgment and a prologue after the opening credits read: “We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the United States Navy whose men, vessels and installations in the Pacific made this motion picture possible. This story takes place in the waning days of the Second World War aboard a navy cargo ship operating in the back areas of the Pacific. In the Navy Register it is listed as THE RELUCTANT, but to its crew it is known as 'The Bucket.'” The four lead actors listed in the opening credits are not listed with the other players in the end credits. Orange Productions, Ltd. was an independent company owned by Leland Hayward and Joshua Logan, who adapted the original stage play from Thomas Heggen’s novel.
       A Feb 1953 DV news item announced that Hayward, Mister Roberts ' Broadway producer, was considering a 3-D film deal for the property. The news item predicted that neither the play’s Broadway director, Logan, nor its lead, Henry Fonda, would work on the film due to prior commitments. Although Warner Bros. production notes for the film claimed that Fonda was the “only man thought of for the title role,” modern sources state that William Holden was first offered the role of “Doug Roberts.” Holden turned it down, saying that Fonda was so identified with the role after 1,600 performances that he “owned” it.
       According to modern sources, Warner Bros. hesitated in casting Fonda because they believed he was too old for the part, and felt that he had been away from feature films long enough to be forgotten by the general public. His previous film had been the 1948 John Ford-directed RKO production, Fort Apache . A Sep 1953 DV , Jan 1954 NYT and HR news items reported that Marlon Brando was cast as Roberts, but when director Ford was assigned to the film, he insisted that Fonda, who, like himself, had been in the Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II, and whom Ford had directed in six previous films, play the role. By Feb 1954, a HR news item announced the casting of Fonda.
       According to an Oct 1954 LAT article, Ford borrowed Jack Lemmon, who portrayed “Ensign Pulver,” from Columbia. Pat Wayne, who played “Bookser” in the film, was the son of John Wayne. Television and film actor Tige Andrews (1920--2007), who made his feature film debut in Mister Roberts , was billed onscreen as "Tiger Andrews." Although his appearance in the film has not been confirmed, an Aug 1954 HR news item adds Jim Lilburn to the cast. According to a modern biography of Fonda, Eva Marie Saint was cast as a nurse, but was later replaced because she was considered too attractive for the part. The source also stated that Ford originally assigned John Patrick as screenwriter, but later replaced him with his son-in-law, Frank Nugent.
       An Aug 1954 NYT article reported that Ford planned to “stick close to the play,” although he and Nugent had to “wash out” some of the “vulgar language.” Ford also remarked that several of the play's minor subplots, such as a nurse’s birthmark, were replaced by other comic sketches, such as the explosion of soap bubbles in the ship's laundry. The HR review would later note that the humor in the film “often skips into zany slapstick” and the NYT would praise “screamingly funny scenes which, in several instances, are visual improvements on the play.” However, modern sources report that Fonda, having strong opinions after playing the role for many years, was uncomfortable about the changes and feared losing the subtlety of the play’s original concept of boredom at sea.
       Filming began in late Aug 1954. Modern sources state that Ford was drinking more heavily than usual, causing him to behave erratically, and that actor Ward Bond helped direct when Ford was too inebriated. According to various modern sources, which vary in the details, Fonda, unhappy with Ford’s concept of the film, complained to him in private and was “slugged” in response. Two months into production, Ford was hospitalized for a gall bladder removal operation, and some modern sources say that he was also hospitalized to “dry out” from his alcoholism. All HR production charts, ending in Nov 1954, listed Ford as director, but Jan 1955 HR and Var news items reported that Mervyn LeRoy replaced Ford when the latter was forced to undergo emergency surgery, and that the two directors would share screen credit.
       Although modern sources state that LeRoy tried to direct the film the way he thought Ford would have wanted, in a modern interview, LeRoy claimed that he changed the role of “Doc” from an alcoholic, as Ford made him, back to the original sober character in the play. Fearing bad publicity regarding his takeover of the directing reins, LeRoy said he hired his own press agent, Arthur P. Jacobs, who would later produce many feature films. According to modern sources, Logan also directed portions of the final film and directed the editing; however, in the opening credits, only Ford and LeRoy are billed as director. Although Ford received top billing, LeRoy’s name, superimposed over a shot of the sea, is brighter and seems to shimmer.
       According to Oct 1954 HR news items, portions of the film were shot in Honolulu and Kaneohe Bay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Another location site, according to Warner Bros. production notes found in the AMPAS file for the film, was the Naval Station Midway, which was the last Allied-held base between Pearl Harbor and Japan during World War II, and the scene of one of the biggest air battles in history. Ford was familiar with the area, having directed the documentary The Battle of Midway , and Heggen had served in the Navy at Midway during World War II. Other location sites, according to HR news items, included the cargo ship USS Hewell , and for night shots, the U.S. Marine Air Station on Kaneohe Bay, HI. Interior scenes were shot at the Warner Bros. soundstage.
       Before the premiere, Mister Roberts was promoted on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town television show on the CBS network, which aired on 19 Jun 1955. The film was also publicized with a cover story in Life . Mister Roberts marked the last film of William Powell, who retired from the screen and died in 1984. The NYT review praised the film for retaining its “picturesque ribaldry within the bounds of the Production Code” and named it one of their top ten films of 1955. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Motion Picture, but lost to Marty . Jack Lemmon won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film, and William A. Mueller was nominated for best sound recording, although he lost to Oklahoma ’s Fred Hynes.
       In 1964, a sequel to Mister Roberts , Ensign Pulver , was produced by Warner Bros. and directed by Joshua Logan. It starred Robert Walker, Jr., Burl Ives and Walter Matthau. A television show, Mister Roberts , aired on the NBC network during 1965-66. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Sep 54
p. 434.
Box Office
21 May 1955.
---
Cue
16 Jul 1955.
---
Daily Variety
11 Feb 1953.
---
Daily Variety
2 Sep 1953.
---
Daily Variety
24 Feb 1954.
---
Daily Variety
24 May 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 May 55
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1954
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 1954
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1955
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1955
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 May 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jul 1955
p. 3.
Life
6 Jun 1955
pp. 22-25.
Los Angeles Mirror
21 Jul 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1954
pt. IV, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
22 May 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Jul 1955.
---
Mirror-News
21 Jul 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 May 55
p. 457.
New York Times
12 Aug 1952.
---
New York Times
24 Jan 1954.
---
New York Times
22 Aug 1954.
---
New York Times
15 Jul 55
p. 14.
New York Times
17 Jul 1955.
---
New York Times
25 Dec 1955
Sec. II, p. 3.
Newsweek
25 Jul 1955.
---
Redbook
Aug 1955.
---
Saturday Review
2 Jul 1955.
---
Variety
10 Jan 1955.
---
Variety
25 May 55
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Orange Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan, as produced on the stage by Leland Hayward (New York, 18 Feb 1948), from the novel of the same name by Thomas Heggen (Boston, 1946).
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 July 1955
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 14 July 1955
San Francisco opening: week of 10 July 1955
Production Date:
late August--mid November 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Orange Productions, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
30 July 1955
Copyright Number:
LP6830
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
WarnerColor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
120-121, 123 or 126
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17195
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In April 1945, Lt. (j.g.) Douglas A. Roberts is a cargo officer on board the Reluctant , a Navy supply ship called the “Bucket” by its crew. Harbored near a South Pacific island that is far from the fighting, the crew suffers from intense heat, boredom and a tyrannical captain, who takes sadistic pleasure in undermining their morale. Roberts intervenes on the crew’s behalf as much as possible. Watching him butt heads with the captain lifts the crew’s spirits and provides almost their sole entertainment. However, Roberts, who quit medical school to fight the war, feels completely wasted aboard the “Bucket.” Alone on watch one night, Roberts watches a convoy of fighting ships sail by and the next morning confides to Doc, the medical officer and his closest friend aboard ship, how much he aches to join them. Although Doc tries to convince him that standing up for the crew against the bullying captain is a valuable service, Roberts remains discontent. As a weekly ritual, Roberts writes the Navy Department to request a transfer to active combat, but his request is systematically vetoed by the captain, whose signature is required for approval. The captain, an uncouth ex-Merchant Marine, is threatened by Roberts’ superior education and intelligence and the admiration given him by the crew. However, he expects that Roberts’ hard work will help him get promoted. It has already won the captain an award for “superior cargo transfer,” a palm tree that he displays proudly outside his cabin. For over a year, the captain has refused to approve leave and he frequently takes away movie nights ... +


In April 1945, Lt. (j.g.) Douglas A. Roberts is a cargo officer on board the Reluctant , a Navy supply ship called the “Bucket” by its crew. Harbored near a South Pacific island that is far from the fighting, the crew suffers from intense heat, boredom and a tyrannical captain, who takes sadistic pleasure in undermining their morale. Roberts intervenes on the crew’s behalf as much as possible. Watching him butt heads with the captain lifts the crew’s spirits and provides almost their sole entertainment. However, Roberts, who quit medical school to fight the war, feels completely wasted aboard the “Bucket.” Alone on watch one night, Roberts watches a convoy of fighting ships sail by and the next morning confides to Doc, the medical officer and his closest friend aboard ship, how much he aches to join them. Although Doc tries to convince him that standing up for the crew against the bullying captain is a valuable service, Roberts remains discontent. As a weekly ritual, Roberts writes the Navy Department to request a transfer to active combat, but his request is systematically vetoed by the captain, whose signature is required for approval. The captain, an uncouth ex-Merchant Marine, is threatened by Roberts’ superior education and intelligence and the admiration given him by the crew. However, he expects that Roberts’ hard work will help him get promoted. It has already won the captain an award for “superior cargo transfer,” a palm tree that he displays proudly outside his cabin. For over a year, the captain has refused to approve leave and he frequently takes away movie nights and other small privileges. When the sailors discover that binoculars provide them with a clear view of the nurses’s shower room in a hospital on the nearby coast, they experience their first release from drudgery in over a year. The ship's morale officer, young ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver, who is also in charge of the ship's laundry, shares Roberts’ quarters. Womanizer Pulver is also aware of the nurses, and finagles a trip to the hospital to pick up aspirin for Doc. While there, he convinces head nurse, Lt. Ann Girard, to come to the ship later by promising to share a bottle of scotch with her. Back on board, while preparing his bunk for seduction, Pulver is distressed to learn that Roberts, the owner of the scotch, has used it to bribe an official to send the Reluctant to a liberty port. Amused by Pulver’s panic, Roberts and Doc mix up simulated scotch, called “jungle juice,” from alcohol, Coca-Cola, iodine and hair tonic. Although Roberts admits that Pulver is “thoroughly likable,” he accuses him of being, among other things, disorganized, and challenges him to finish one thing that he starts. As an example, he suggests that he carry out his idea of putting marbles in the captain’s overhead. However, Pulver's fear of the captain renders him incapable of defiance. When Ann appears with the other nurses in tow, Pulver despairs of getting her alone. With Roberts’ permission, Pulver pretends to be the ship’s cargo officer. While he shows them around, the nurses, who are undeceived by his pretensions, discover the sailors’ view of their quarters and leave immediately to hang curtains. When the Reluctant sails to the liberty port, the captain, who learns about Roberts’ bribe, forbids the men to go ashore. Arguing that the men are “breakable,” Roberts begs him to relent, finally winning the crew one night of shore leave at great personal cost: In return, he must cease questioning the captain’s orders, especially in front of the men, and give up writing transfer applications. During their night onshore, the men, unaware of Roberts’ concessions, unleash all their pent-up energy. They crash an Army dance, fight with soldiers, terrorize women, steal an admiral’s goat and mistake the French Colonial governor’s mansion for a bordello. Roberts hopes the night will give them strength for the “miserable, endless days ahead of them.” The next day, the ship is banished from the port. The captain, livid at the blemish on his record, forces Roberts, in front of the crew, to assist in their punishment. Confused by Roberts’ sullen compliance, the men are further mystified when he stops writing transfer requests, and his growing irritability makes them wonder if he is “bucking for a promotion." Later, upon hearing that Germany has surrendered, Roberts puts one of the crewmen, Dolan, on record for a minor infraction, and then, near tears, begs Doc to give him a medical transfer. Guessing that Roberts is suppressing resentment because he made an agreement on the men’s behalf, Doc refuses and tells the concerned Pulver afterward that Roberts is panicking because the war is ending before he can join it. Trying to cheer Roberts, Pulver builds an explosive out of a toilet paper roll and some fulminator mercury, which he promises to throw under the captain’s bunk. When Roberts laughs hysterically at the idea, he goes to the laundry room to test it. After an explosion, soapsuds flood the ship, and Pulver returns to say that his whole supply of mercury blew up by accident. The rebellion ends after the captain is told that a steam pipe broke. That night, Roberts apologizes to Dolan, but he and the other men respond coldly. Left alone on deck, Roberts listens to the radio broadcast of a speech that urges the free world to stand up to stupidity and arrogance. Inspired, he throws the palm tree overboard, then goes to bed. During the night, the captain, seeing the palm missing, sounds a general alarm. The men, at first believing they are under attack, scurry to find their battle stations and from there watch the ensuing “showdown.” The captain, forgetting to turn off the p.a. system, accuses Roberts of breaking his promise and the men then realize that Roberts bought their night of liberty. Roberts remains calm in the face of the captain’s spewing anger, and summons Doc when the captain almost passes out. The eavesdropping men thoroughly enjoy the drama of the night and when Roberts emerges from the cabin, their admiration is obvious. Weeks later, Roberts receives orders to transfer to a destroyer stationed in Okinawa, which surprises him, as he has not requested a transfer in months. While packing, he mentions to Doc that, as far as the men are concerned, he is easily replaceable. Doc, however, confides a secret: The men forged a transfer request and then forged the captain’s signature of approval, to show their gratitude to Roberts for getting them shore leave. Before he leaves, the men toast Roberts with “jungle juice” dispensed from a fire extinguisher and present him with a handmade medal shaped like a palm tree and inscribed, “Order of the Palm, for action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty.” Deeply moved, Roberts puts on the medal, salutes and leaves. Some time later, the captain orders a 24-hour watch on a palm tree he has dug up to replace his prized one. Pulver, who has been assigned Roberts’ position, frets over confronting the captain about showing a movie to the men. At mail call, Pulver receives from Roberts a letter written three weeks earlier. Having gained perspective from his new post, Roberts writes philosophically about the courage the Reluctant men showed while surviving monotony. Although Roberts is now where he needs to be, he is proud to have served with them and treasures their medal more than a Congressional Medal of Honor. A second letter Pulver receives, which was written by a friend serving on Roberts’ ship, reports that Roberts was killed by a Japanese suicide bomber while drinking coffee in the ship’s wardroom. The men mourn, but Pulver, emboldened by shock, throws the captain’s palm tree overboard, pounds on his cabin door and belligerently demands, "Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight?" +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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