John Ford

Mister Roberts (1955)

Captain Morton (James Cagney) may officially be the captain of the USS Reluctant, but as far as the crew is concerned, Lieutenant Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) is the man in charge.  Captain Morton is very strict and routinely denies the crew their small rewards over very minor infractions.  Doug, on the other hand, is much kinder and often ignores the Captain’s orders to make the crew’s life more bearable.  However, the USS Reluctant isn’t seeing any of the action of World War II and Doug would much rather be on active duty than be stuck on that boat.  His closest friend Doc (William Powell) tries to reassure him that his being on the ship means the world to the crew, but that doesn’t stop him from requesting a transfer.

In order for Doug to get a transfer, Captain Morton would have to agree to it and Morton knows that he would look bad if Doug were to leave so he refuses to sign his letters.  Captain Morton hasn’t even let the crew have leave in a very long time, so behind the Captain’s back, Doug bribes an official to get the crew granted one night of leave.  When the Captain finds out about it, he threatens to deny the whole crew their leave unless Doug promises to stop undermining him and to stop requesting transfers.  Doug reluctantly agrees, and the crew is mystified to see Doug suddenly playing into the Captain’s hand.

The crew thinks Doug is just gunning to get a promotion and starts giving him the cold shoulder.  But on the night of V-E Day, Doug listens to a speech on the radio that inspires him to stand up to the Captain.  While the Captain confronts Doug in his office, the intercom is accidentally left on and the whole crew finds out the price Doug paid for them to have their leave.  To show their gratitude, the crew decides to get Doug the transfer he wants so badly.  Before he leaves for Okinawa, the crew presents Doug with their own special award and he finally realizes just how much he really meant to everybody.

With Doug off in Okinawa, Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon) takes over Doug’s old position on the ship. Frank is pretty intimidated by the Captain, so he can’t bring himself to go against the Captain the way Doug used to.  But when the crew gets word that Doug has been killed, Frank finally finds the nerve to stand up to the Captain.

Genre-wise, Mister Roberts is really in a league of its own.  It deals with World War II, but there aren’t any big battle scenes.  It’s got comedy, but it’s not a farce like Dr. Strangelove.  And for all its lighthearted moments, when it was serious, it was very heartfelt and touching.  It’s very hard to combine all of those genres and do all of them well, but Mister Roberts managed to pull it off.

The part of Doug Roberts is such a perfect Henry Fonda role.  He’s that “everyman fighting for what’s right” type of character that Fonda is best remembered for playing.  As good as Fonda is, Jack Lemmon really steals the show at the end of the movie.  His performance in the scene where he reads Doug’s letters aloud to the crew is so genuinely moving.  He’s great in the rest of the movie, too, but boy did he ever hit it out of the park in that scene.

I love everything about Mister Roberts.  I don’t know why on Earth I put off seeing it for such a long time.

What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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What’s on TCM: July 2010

Wow, TCM in July is chock full of noteworthy days!  Gregory Peck is the star of the month, so that means lots of great movies like To Kill a Mockingbird, Roman Holiday, Designing Woman, and Spellbound.  In addition to Gregory Peck, TCM will spend some time spotlighting other great stars like Myrna Loy, Gene Kelly, William Powell, and Doris Day.  Every Thursday this month, TCM will be showcasing classic teen movies, everything from Rebel Without a Cause and Beach Blanket Bingo to Sixteen Candles and Risky Business.  It feels like this is one of those months where there’s something for everybody, whether you like John Ford westerns or Ingmar Bergman.  Now, on to my picks for the month:

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Films Rediscovered

I don’t think there is any news that thrills classic film fans more than news that a movie that was thought to be lost has been found.  With the news that an astounding 75 lost silent films have been found in New Zealand, I’m sure many fans of silents are feeling like they just won the lottery.  It’s exciting enough when just one lost film is rediscovered, but to find 75 of them is truly incredible.  Among the most noteworthy finds are: Upstream, directed by John Ford; The Woman Hater, starring Pearl White; Won in a Cupboard, directed by legendary Mack Sennett star Mabel Normand; Mary of the Movies, which is now the oldest known surviving movie produced by Columbia; and Maytime, starring the ‘it’ girl herself, Clara Bow.

It is believed that about 80% of films from the 1890s-early 1930s are now lost for good.  In some cases, virtually nothing exists anymore from some of the biggest stars of the time.  Theda Bara starred in 40 films during her career, but only three and a half currently exist.  But luckily, the films of other major stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks fared much better and very little of their careers have been lost to the ages.

There are many reasons for how films wind up being lost.  In many cases, the films just weren’t well cared for.  In the early days of film, nobody was thinking that anybody would be interested in this stuff a century later so they thought nothing of throwing away unused footage or entire movies that no longer had any commercial value.  Sometimes films would be destroyed in order to recycle the silver in the film stock.  Nitrate film stock is extremely volatile and can easily catch on fire if it is improperly stored.  Fox lost all of their pre-1935 negatives due to a vault fire.  If they didn’t burst into flames, they’d often just decay and disintegrate into a pile of dust.  A lot of times, scenes would be cut after initial screenings to make it more marketable or due to censorship.  Most famously, much of the original cut of Metropolis was lost for decades before a complete print was discovered in Argentina in 2008.  And then there’s the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born.  That one had to be drastically cut down after its premiere and is currently available in a nearly complete restored version, but a complete print is believed to exist.  And then there’s the case of 1933’s Convention City.  The entire film was intentionally destroyed because it was way too pre-code to even be censored and re-released while the Production Code Administration was in charge.

Since I love the stories about how lost films (or lost scenes) surface, here are some of my favorite rediscovery stories:

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