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Mister Roberts: Premiere Collection

The legendary Henry Fonda didn't star in a single film from 1948 to 1954, choosing instead to pursue the theater, and in particular the play Mister Roberts, which ran on Broadway for several years (in fact, Fonda performed the role of Lt. Doug Roberts on stage more than 1,300 times). When the time came for Mister Roberts to be adapted for the big screen, Fonda was initially hesitant, and several other well-known actors were offered the lead role. But eventually Fonda was persuaded to star in the film version, in part because director John Ford was helming the project. It would mark the seventh and last time that the two Hollywood legends would collaborate on a movie, and Mister Roberts is easily one of Fonda's best — and most memorable — performances. Lt. Doug Roberts is the executive officer of the U.S.S. Reluctant, a cargo ship that has never seen action, which Roberts desperately wants. His requests for transfer to a destroyer are consistently denied by the boat's captain (James Cagney), a petty tyrant who only cares about his status as a naval officer, abusing his officers and crew in pursuit of a promotion. It is left to the well-meaning (if temperamental) Roberts to place himself between the captain and the men, trying to keep their morale high while his own sinks further and further with the monotony of cargo duty. In addition to Fonda and Cagney, the equally legendary William Powell and Jack Lemmon also star in Mister Roberts, marking the end of one career (Powell retired after the film) and the beginning of another (it was Lemmon's first major role, and he won an Oscar for his efforts). The four leads create a comical alchemy — with Fonda and Cagney always at odds, ship's doctor Powell staying above the fray, and young ensign Lemmon constantly claiming that he's going to let the captain have it, but never having the guts to show his face on deck. The production stays very true to the original stage play, with little action occurring outside of a few settings on the ship, and Ford and Fonda's insistence that exteriors be shot on a genuine Navy vessel (on location in Hawaii and Midway) provides for a number of tropical panoramas. The transfer on this edition of Mister Roberts is absolutely pristine, with only a couple of brief snags and no flecking, grain, or color deterioration — it looks like it's been kept in cold storage. A new Dolby Digital 5.1 track is on board, and in addition to the outstanding film, extras include a commentary track with Jack Lemmon (who might as well be telling old Hollywood stories over dinner, but is still vastly entertaining), priceless footage from Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" television show wherein Fonda, Cagney, and Lemmon perform two scenes in front of a live audience, an excerpt from the 1992 documentary "Fonda on Fonda" hosted by daughter Jane, the original theatrical trailer, and textual supplements. Snap-case.
—JJB



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