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4.8 out of 5 stars
Mister Roberts
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149 of 156 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Watching this again many years after I first saw it, I expected to be disappointed. After all, the great films of our youth sometimes turn out to be something less than we had imagined. But Mister Roberts does not disappoint. This is one of the gems of the American cinema, a poignant comedy featuring a multitudinously clever and delightful script by Frank Nugent and Joshua Logan from a novel by Thomas Heggen made into a play by Logan and Heggen that ran for many years on Broadway. The movie features sterling performances from Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell and Jack Lemmon. Fonda is particularly brilliant in the kind of role from which legends are made. (He also played the part on Broadway.) You can take all your John Wayne classics and toss them overboard with the Captain's palm tree. Henry Fonda as Lt (j.g.) Doug Roberts, cargo officer of the USS Reluctant, shines forth as the noblest hero of them all. He is a quiet, strong, fair, courageous man in a story sure to mist up your eyes even if you're watching it for the twentieth time.

Jack Lemmon won a supporting Oscar for his performance as Ensign Pulver, a kind of lazy, but slyly resourceful Walter Mitty type who talks a great game but never follows through... James Cagney is the Captain, a sour, resentful man who mercilessly badgers Mister Roberts and grossly neglects the morale of his crew. He is just perfect. The way he bellows "Mister Roberts!" or way he trembles out the line, "Mister...Mister...this time you've gone too far" delights the audience. William Powell, in his last film, plays the ship's wise and ever diplomatic doc with graceful precision.

Marty (1955) starring Ernest Borgnine, a kind of politically correct (for its time) love story about ordinary folk, won the Academy's honor for best picture in 1956, the year Mister Roberts was nominated. Henry Fonda, in perhaps his most beloved and certainly one of his finest performances, was not even nominated. Incidentally, Hollywood legend John Ford directed, but fell ill and Mervyn LeRoy--no slouch himself (e.g., The Bad Seed, 1956; No Time for Sergeants, 1958, etc.)--finished up.

There are a number of memorable scenes in the film, the kind recalled with delight. My favorite involves the crew, their binoculars and the nurses. I also loved the careful concocting of the "scotch whiskey" by Doc. The weekly letters requesting a transfer, the Hoot Gibson films we (thankfully) never see, the ever worshipful palm tree, Pulver's marbles in a tobacco tin that he shakes in Roberts's face, vowing to prove his manhood by putting them in the captain's overbin, his "firecracker," his "If I could be with you/One hour tonight/To do the things I might/I'm telling you true/I'd be anything but blue," the giddy nurses, and the infamous liberty are other unforgettable bits. But more than anything, what makes this a great movie, are the indelible characters so very true to our experience, and how nicely they meld and contrast.

This is, along with From Here to Eternity, Das Boot, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Caine Mutiny, Stalag 17, and Twelve O'Clock High, among my favorite movies to come out of World War II. What sets Mister Roberts apart is the humor born of the boredom, frustration, and tedium that most truly characterizes life in the service. In this regard I recall a saying that goes something like this: "War is filled with long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of absolute terror." The crew of the Reluctant got only the boredom.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
Format: DVD
When Henry Fonda received the Kennedy Center honors in the late 70's, as part of his tribute, the Naval Academy glee club sang. Red River Valley saluted Grapes of Wrath, but the highlight was Anchors Away, when the Midshipman director of the glee club turned about face, saluted and said "Thank you, Mr. Roberts." As each Middie left the stage, he saluted and former Lt (jg) Fonda returned each one. Mr. Fonda was reported to have said that that was the greatest honor he received in a truly distinguished career.
This movie has that impact--it is a salute to "all those brave men who sailed from Apathy to Tedium, with an occasional side trip to Monotony" (I hope I have this right). When he died, the network news tribute was a dark screen and the sound track as Dolan and the others, having learned just what Mr. Roberts had done for them, each repeated those magic words "Good night, Mr. Roberts."
This is my favorite movie, one which I have watched at least 100 times. With marvelous performances by William Powell (Doc), James Cagney (the Captain), and Jack Lemmon (Ensign Pulver), as well as a fine supporting cast, this is a "must have" selection.
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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This excellent war comedy/movie will always be one of my personal favorites. Based on the WWII guideline, the basic premise is a rather anal boat captain trying to make "ship shape" a merchant/transport type ship. (in the Pacific).

From an original play of Broadway, starring Hendy Fonda to the big screen. (My parents saw this Play on Broadway on their honeymoon and I still have the Playbill) So naturally I am biased.

Start with an assembled cast second to none.

Henry Fonda (Wry humor..this movie IS him.)

William Powell (The thin man returns...his sarcasm is perfect here)

James Cagney (Does his talent ever end? One of his best roles)

Lemmon (Ensign Pulver), shows his talent for the site gag and, lets say, driftiness, early. This perfomance spawned a few sequels on Pulver alone.

If you were ever in the Navy, you will see Cagney's Performance as uncanny, and see a little bit of each actor in your own experience.

This is meant to be seen in its entirety. Its not cut to pieces for TV, and when seen in this format is like a new movie, meant to be seen from start to finish.

Highly recommended, and will be seen again and again
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 21, 2005
Format: DVD
One of the few truly perfect movies of all time. Four legendary actors (Fonda, Cagney, Powell, and Lemmon) provide the chemistry in one of the most inspiring and highly regarded films from the WWII era.

Henry Fonda reprises his Broadway role as Lt.jg Doug Roberts, a "college boy" that dropped out of Med School to join the war effort in the Pacific, only to be assigned as a cargo officer far from the perils of action, but daily waging his own personal war with the Captain played by Jimmy Cagney, himself from the school of hard-knocks and invested with a world-class Napoleon complex. Fonda's primary motivation is get transferred off the "bucket" and into the war, while at the same time maintaining the morale and providing a shield for the crew against the irrational tirades of Cagney. The results are Hollywood history, very powerful, moving, touching, and with a good dose of humor.

There's just something about this movie that stays with you, and as Jack Lemmon himself said in the audio commentary when talking about the respect he had for his cast members of the film...with certain actors "...it's not what they're saying, it's what's coming from the inside..." And how.

The tensions of the cold war brewing between Roberts and the Captain are well balanced with plenty of comic relief and wry humor, much of it provided by the extraordinarily cool and laconic William Powell as Doc. John Ford debuted as the director only to leave during production, for causes still debated, to be replaced by the multi-talented Mervyn Leroy. I sometimes wonder if it's not the combined impact of their mutual genius that makes this film so great? Ford's body of work is somewhat one dimensional compared to Leroy's, who after filming went to work on 1956's "Bad Seed," and then found he had a real knack for high comedy with the hysterical 1958 "No Time for Sergeants."

One reviewer complained about the DVD release...he really should dump his Playstation and invest in something with a little more utility. The quality of the transfer is excellent, with very few artifacts, and tones and textures that I promise you have not seen before if you're a fan. The Dolby 5.1 remastering is much more than you would expect from a film of this era, and the extras are worth the price of the disc, particularly the commentary by Lemmon, and the live performance of two scenes on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town. A cornerstone of any great DVD collection. 5 Palms.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2005
Format: DVD
I was fortunate to have seen the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed to Henry Fonda for his career full of memorable films given to him in the late 70's. In that particular ceremony, Mister Roberts was featured prominently and rightfully so as it was one of his most memorable roles. At the end of the show, getting inspiration to one of the classic scenes of the movie, those who attended and paid tribute to Mister Fonda that ranges from Bette Davis to Barbra Stanwyck, to Jimmy Stewart and to Ensign Pulver himself Jack Lemmon, one by one stood up and did the "Goodnight, Mister Roberts" from the movie but it was adapted in the ceremony by changing it to "Goodnight, Mister Fonda". That was one beautiful moment.

Mister Roberts (Fonda) was the cargo officer of a battle ship that does not happen to participate in actual battles. He is considered a hero by the crew and one of the reasons was that he was the only one who can fight back the cruel captain played by James Cagney. Mister Robert's kindness and camaraderie to the crew was exploited by the captain to control Mister Robert's subordination at the expense of Mister Robert's goal to be transferred in the battlefield. But of course the crew made sure that won't happen.

Henry Fonda was perfect. I can't think of anyone who could play the title character with the dignity and quiet heroism that he showed in the movie. Jack Lemmon stole some scenes and I was truly delighted to see his unique comic timing that became so distinctively associated with him. James Cagney, played the captain with such "barking" intensity you'll hate his guts.

This is one of my all time favorite movies and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 28, 2001
Format: DVD
The U.S.S. Reluctant has set sail on her final voyage. The U.S.S. Hewell was the actual 250-ton cargo ship at the naval base at Midway, which doubled for the U.S.S. Reluctant used to film MISTER ROBERTS. Henry Fonda was Lieutenant (jg) Doug Roberts or just known as beloved Mister Roberts to his crew. Mister Roberts was a man of dignity and honor who just wanted to do his part in the war. Instead Mister Roberts is rendered impotent on the U.S.S. Reluctant commanded by a hot-tempered, eccentric basically uneducated Captain brilliantly played by James Cagney. The script under the tenure of director John Ford mixed his usual comic military camaraderie with the despair of the sailors stuck in remote out of action sea-lanes and ports during World War II in the South Pacific. In effect the Captain represents the enemy to the crew and the dregs of the naval officer corps to Mister Roberts. The ever stoic Roberts finds solace in the crew (Ward Bond, Nick Adams, Harry Carey Jr., Ken Curtis, Perry Lopez, Tige Andrews and many others), a fatherly William Powell as Doc and Jack Lemmon as Ensign Pulver. Jack Lemmon won an Oscar for his role as the knee-jerk compulsive and glib wheeler-dealer Ensign Pulver. The Captain shows no compassion for the crew and it seems that his only real feelings are for a palm tree he keeps on deck. As events unfold and personalities clash into a final confrontation and the realities of war hit home it is the unlikely Ensign Pulver who does a 180-degree turn at the film's closing shot. Henry Fonda, William Powell, Ward Bond, Nick Adams, Ken Curtis and even the Captain James Cagney among many other members of the crew of the U.S.S. Reluctant have now left us. Today I read of Jack Lemmon. I suppose the `Order of the Palm Leaf' has now been passed from the hand of its final owner and now rests below the calm blue waters of the South Pacific. As the U.S.S. Reluctant turns its final bend into the sunset we say, "Goodnight Mister Roberts, Goodnight Ensign Pulver. Godspeed."
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 27, 2005
Format: DVD
A wonderfully enduring film and play about a Navy supply ship and the men on board fighting the real battle of war...boredom and monotony. Henry Fonda is Mr. -(delivering more toothpaste and toilet paper than any other Navy cargo ship in the safe area of the Pacific)- Roberts, William Powell as -(two aspirin, marked for duty)- Doc, James Cagney as Ship's -(the worst thing I can do to you is keep you right here, Mister!)- Captain and Jack Lemmon as Ensign -(I'm searching for marbles all day long!)- Pulver. The stage play ran for many years and is still being played in schools and playhouses around the country. This is just a great classic film well worth adding to any library. The battle royal between the Captain and Mr. Roberts over shore leave, makes this a memorable movie experience. Great cast and great acting.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2006
Format: DVD
War is 99% boredom and 1% sheer panic. This movie tells a wonderful story of a 'college boy' Navy Officer who can't get out from under the thumb of an up from the ranks - hardscrabble poor boy Commander who makes life a living hell - trying to bend this officer to his will AND make Captain before the war is over. One needs to remember that when this was filmed - college educations were not as common as they are now - and from the depths of the depression going into WWII even less so. Cagney utters his classic lines - I join in - riotious laughter throughout our household. Classic!!!!!!!!

Filmed in a way to resemble a stage play (from which it was derived), close quarters all, the crew of a "tub" of a Navy supply ship exists amidst the boredom humidity and heat of rear area logistics bases in the South Pacific. Henry Fonda gives a career performance in his role of a patriot yearning for combat - Jimmy Cagney, the commander - threatened by the presence of a popular officer who sacrifices for his men. A very young Jack Lemmon - 'Ensign Pulver' who stayed invisable on a 300 foot ship for 14 months as a "morale and laundry" officer. All done very nicely indeed!

As we all said in the military - be careful what you wish for - an anti-climatic ending to a wonderful portrayal of the WWII United States Citizen/Sailor who gets his wish for combat transfer.

A sub-title for this movie might be '4 officers and a Palm Tree!'

The DVD has been remastered for sound and visual clarity. Color is good - plays well on my 56" JVC HDTV on a progressive scan DVD player. A classic for your film library.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
Henry Fonda stars in one of his most famous roles as Mr. Roberts, an officer on board a cargo ship, a man who underestimates his importance and the respect he is shown by an appreciative crew. The reason they admire him so much is because he stands up to their dictatorial captain, played ferociously by James Cagney. Fonda brings a lot of dignity and quiet strength to his character. The great William Powell is Fonda's confidant and ship's doctor, and Powell plays him with wisdom and class. Jack Lemmon, as Ensign Pulver, gets many of the film's best laughs, as he broadly plays the officer who is a lot of talk, but not much action. Mister Roberts combines humour, honesty, and drama very well, giving the viewer a real sense of the camaraderie onboard the ship. We also see how the human spirit can triumph under difficult conditions. And it's also a great chance to see four of Hollywood's greatest actors in one film, each one showing what they did so well. This is one to watch.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2005
Format: DVD
This is one of my all time favorite war flicks, and there's no battle action! Henry Fonda plays a character that you wish you could meet. He's someone who is patriotic and wants to serve his country, but he remains one who will battle for his men even when it means he gets in trouble with the captain. James Cagney plays the William Bligh-like captain, and he plays the part to perfection. You know he's doing a good acting job when you hate him so much! Jack Lemmon is very funny playing one of the laziest people you could ever hope to meet.

All in all, I can watch this movie over and over again. The acting is great, there are some hilarious parts, and it deals with a subject not many movies do--being in the back end of a big war. I appreciate Mr. Roberts, and I only wish his part wasn't fictional!
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