Directed by John Ford, Mister Roberts is a military comedy-drama set aboard a US cargo ship in the Pacific during the later part of WWII. Captain Morton (James Cagney) is a tyrant regularly disciplining his crew over the tiniest infractions, including putting cigarette butts in his beloved potted palm tree. As one sailor puts it, the palm tree is a reward “for delivering more toothpaste and toilet paper than any other ship.” Life aboard “the Bucket” is less than glamorous, and Lt. Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) wants to transfer to a battleship before it’s too late to fight. He constantly writes letters requesting his transfer and describing the disharmony aboard the ship. But with the Captain won’t let his letters go through. He knows he has a good cargo officer and refuses to sign Mister Roberts’ transfer papers.
The sailors haven’t been off the ship in nearly a year and are getting anxious. There are fun scenes where the sailors are using binoculars to spy into the nurses shower room on the nearby island. When Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon) invites one of the nurses to the ship, the lengths he and Doc (William Powell) go to to find liquor for his hot date are hilarious and when it all goes south, the crew has one less thing to look forward to.
To help out his overworked crew, Mister Roberts strikes a deal the the Captain to not undermine his authority or send any more letters in order to give the men liberty off the ship. The men start to think that Mister Robers has lost his backbone. It’s only when the men realize the sacrifice Mister Roberts made for them, they thank him in their own way.
The majority of the film is a comedy. The crew is full of fun and zany mishaps, from trying to get a date with the nurses to concocting pranks to pull on the Captain. When they come back to the ship after their liberty, some bring their good time back with them. They dance aboard the ship, wearing floral leis and some are so full of liquor they had to be carried aboard the ship in a net. One man even brings a goat back with him, claiming it to be his new sweetheart.
Fonda portrays Mister Roberts as that person we all hope to have aboard our ship. He’s caring, smart, always looking out for his crew and not afraid to stand up to unfair authority. These people will get the credit they deserve eventually, and that’s something to smile about.
If you enjoy military comedies, a lighthearted drama or Henry Fonda, I completely recommend Mister Roberts.
“I forgot my motorcycle.”