Henry Fonda returned to films after an eight-year absence in this masterful adaptation of the actor's Broadway hit Mister Roberts. Written and partially directed by Joshua Logan, the film stars Fonda as Lt. Doug Roberts, chief cargo officer of the supply ship Reluctant. WW2 is in its last few months, and Roberts is itching for combat duty.
But the Reluctant's surly, despotic captain (James Cagney), anxious to use Roberts to expedite his own promotion, refuses to sign any of Roberts' transfer requests.
Helping to brighten Mister Roberts' humdrum existence are his best friends, Ensign Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon, in an Oscar-winning performance) and the ship's philosophical doctor (William Powell, in his final film appearance). Most of the laughs are provided by Pulver, officer in charge of laundry and morale.
When he isn't wheeling and dealing to bring a bevy of beautiful nurses on board the Reluctant, Pulver is concocting elaborate schemes to avenge himself against the Captain -- even though he's spent 14 months on the Reluctant without ever meeting his nemesis.
The film's highlights include the efforts by Roberts, Pulver, and Doc to mix a bottle of Scotch from Coca-Cola, Iodine, and other vital ingredients; and Mister Roberts' (and later Ensign Pulver's) assertion of manhood by tossing the Captain's precious palm tree overboard.
Halfway through shooting, legendary director John Ford was replaced, ostensibly because of illness, by Mervyn LeRoy. One of the finest service comedies ever made, Mister Roberts spawned a less amusing sequel, Ensign Pulver (1964), as well as a 1965 TV sitcom.