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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
"Mister Roberts" in an entertaining though very stagebound drama which plays like
a filmed record of the Broadway hit within the procenium arch of the CinemaScope
ratio.

It's much better than you would expect for a movie that went through three directors
including John Ford, Mervyn Leroy and Joshua Logan. I've read different accounts of
Ford either bowing out because of illness or clashing with star Henry Fonda and using
that as an excuse to get out of the picture.

I guess the problem when creating a movie out of a stage hit with the original actor
is that after hundreds of performances, the star is unlikely to take direction since
he will be very set in his ways. This why Zero Mostel was not utilized for the cinematic adaptation of "Fiddler of the Roof". Director, Norman Jewison, wanted the character to be played realistically and not over the top and did not feel that Mostel would be willing to alter the way he had been doing it for so many years.

Fortunately, Fonda is very good as the lead character here, a popular officer with the crew
of a cargo ship. Mister Roberts is going bonkers stuck in the dead end job while World War
II passes him by. He's in a personality conflict with the ship's tyranical Captain played by
James Cagney who has a lot of class envy baggage which he takes out on his second in
command. Of course Fonda is much too low key for a real life Officer required to discipline an inexperienced crew but this became one of his defining roles.

The other characters include a young Jack Lemmon playing the lecherous, goofy
Ensign Pulver (he won the supporting actor Oscar) and William Powell as the world
weary medical officer in his final screen role. The song that Lemmon sings to himself
throughout the story was added in post-production as a gag so you don't see his
lips move when your hear it.

Through a series of confrontations, Roberts is finally released by the Captain and gets active duty in the Pacific only to be killed. Because of this film's lack of a cinematic structure, this takes place off screen. Certainly we should've seen Roberts in his new ship, his satisfaction at his new job, then destruction for dramatic impact. This is the type of film that could've easily been done as a TV movie instead of a theatrical feature. A movie should 'move' shouldn't it?

The three directors frame the characters so they are spread out across the wide frame and
most of the scenes are played in long single takes with little intercutting. So, you feel like you're sitting in the first row of a theater but not really like you are stuck on the claustrophic ship which would've been more effective and cinematic. Since the play is good character study it works for what it is but I feel it could've been better or at least less static in it's approach to the subject.

The DVD was originally released in 1998, the second year of the format and the same
transfer was re-issued in 2006. Suffice to say, it leaves much to be desired compared to
contemporary transfers. The anamorphically enhanced CinemaScope image looks acceptable
on a standard monitor but if you try to project it as I did, a lot of the visual artifacts and
problems become noticeable.

Aside from the general distortion with the old CinemaScope lenses, the shoddy Warnercolor
visuals are not consistently saturated throughout the 122 minute running time. I guess back
in the early fifties when Eastmancolor was introduced as a cheap alternative to the more
expensive (and vastly superior) Technicolor, it seemed like a win/win proposal for some of the
studios to set up their own lab for in house productions. Fox created "De Luxe", MGM created
"Metrocolor" and Warner Brothers "Warnercolor". While it might have been easy to process
Eastmancolor under a studio tradename, the expertise in color correcting the film on a shot to
shot and scene to scene basis as well as complicated optical effects like fades, dissolves and
credits seemed beyond the capabilities of these three labs. Whereas old Technicolor movies
look sensational when transferred to the digital medium, all of the ineptitude and artifacts of
the competing labs are exacerbated by the DVD format. Warnercolor is certainly no exception. The credit sequence and all fades and dissolves look very grainy and murky to the point of distraction. Also, some of the negative footage seems to have been damaged and replaced by blotchy looking dupes. In some cases, the image jiggles noticeabley in those shots, specifically some footage when Pulver meets the nurses on the Island. So be prepared for a fair amount of visual problems and grain throughout the feature. I'm not sure whether a future blu ray transfer will be able to fix these defects through some grain reducing technology or make it even worse. Warner Brothers eventually shut down their Warnercolor lab and switched back to Technicolor in the sixties with
much better results (i.e. "The Music Man", "The Great Race", "My Fair Lady" etc.) Unfortunately all of their fifties features processed at their own facility have similar problems. "Giant" is a visual mess too.

The 5.1 adaptation of the of the original 4 channel mix is better than anticipated. They even
retained some directional dialogue and the music score is majestic with the exception of when wolf whistles are worked into the tracks which was pretty hokey.

P.S. It's somewhat funny to think of a CinemaScope movie being 'anamorphically enhanced'
since the process itself was based on anamorphically squeezing a standard square
frame. It proves there's nothing new under the sun. Squeezing and unsqueezing
a square image to make it wider is what both formats are based on. In other words,
"Mister Roberts" was squeezed on a square frame making it skinny. Then it was un-
squeezed for the widescreen ratio then squeezed again so that when it was
unsqueezed it would expand in the 16:9 ratio. Hope you followed all that.
 

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"Mister Roberts" in an entertaining though very stagebound drama which plays like
a filmed record of the Broadway hit within the procenium arch of the CinemaScope
ratio.

It's much better than you would expect for a movie that went through three directors
including John Ford, Mervyn Leroy and Joshua Logan. I've read different accounts of
Ford either bowing out because of illness or clashing with star Henry Fonda and using
that as an excuse to get out of the picture.

I guess the problem when creating a movie out of a stage hit with the original actor
is that after hundreds of performances, the star is unlikely to take direction since
he will be very set in his ways. This why Zero Mostel was not utilized for the cinematic adaptation of "Fiddler of the Roof". Director, Norman Jewison, wanted the character to be played realistically and not over the top and did not feel that Mostel would be willing to alter the way he had been doing it for so many years.

Fortunately, Fonda is very good as the lead character here, a popular officer with the crew
of a cargo ship. Mister Roberts is going bonkers stuck in the dead end job while World War
II passes him by. He's in a personality conflict with the ship's tyranical Captain played by
James Cagney who has a lot of class envy baggage which he takes out on his second in
command. Of course Fonda is much too low key for a real life Officer required to discipline an inexperienced crew but this became one of his defining roles.

The other characters include a young Jack Lemmon playing the lecherous, goofy
Ensign Pulver (he won the supporting actor Oscar) and William Powell as the world
weary medical officer in his final screen role. The song that Lemmon sings to himself
throughout the story was added in post-production as a gag so you don't see his
lips move when your hear it.

Through a series of confrontations, Roberts is finally released by the Captain and gets active duty in the Pacific only to be killed. Because of this film's lack of a cinematic structure, this takes place off screen. Certainly we should've seen Roberts in his new ship, his satisfaction at his new job, then destruction for dramatic impact. This is the type of film that could've easily been done as a TV movie instead of a theatrical feature. A movie should 'move' shouldn't it?

The three directors frame the characters so they are spread out across the wide frame and
most of the scenes are played in long single takes with little intercutting. So, you feel like you're sitting in the first row of a theater but not really like you are stuck on the claustrophic ship which would've been more effective and cinematic. Since the play is good character study it works for what it is but I feel it could've been better or at least less static in it's approach to the subject.

The DVD was originally released in 1998, the second year of the format and the same
transfer was re-issued in 2006. Suffice to say, it leaves much to be desired compared to
contemporary transfers. The anamorphically enhanced CinemaScope image looks acceptable
on a standard monitor but if you try to project it as I did, a lot of the visual artifacts and
problems become noticeable.

Aside from the general distortion with the old CinemaScope lenses, the shoddy Warnercolor
visuals are not consistently saturated throughout the 122 minute running time. I guess back
in the early fifties when Eastmancolor was introduced as a cheap alternative to the move
expensive (and vastly superior) Technicolor, it seemed like a win/win proposal for some of the
studios to set up their own lab for in house productions. Fox created "De Luxe", MGM created
"Metrocolor" and Warner Brothers "Warnercolor". While it might have been easy to process
Eastmancolor under a studio tradename, the expertise in color correcting the film on a shot to
shot and scene to scene basis as well as complicated optical effects like fades, dissolves and
credits seemed beyond the capabilities of these three labs. Whereas old Technicolor movies
look sensational when transferred to the digital medium, all of the ineptitude and artifacts of
the competing labs are exacerbated by the DVD format. Warnercolor is certainly no exception. The credit sequence and all fades and dissolves look very grainy and murky to the point of distraction. Also, some of the negative footage seems to have been damaged and replaced by blotchy looking dupes. In some cases, the image jiggles noticeabley in those shots, specifically some footage when Pulver meets the nurses on the Island. So be prepared for a fair amount of visual problems and grain throughout the feature. I'm not sure whether a future blu ray transfer will be able to fix these defects through some grain reducing technology or make it even worse. Warner Brothers eventually shut down their Warnercolor lab and switched back to Technicolor in the sixties with
much better results (i.e. "The Music Man", "The Great Race", "My Fair Lady" etc.) Unfortunately all of their fifties features processed at their own facility have similar problems. "Giant" is a visual mess too.

The 5.1 adaptation of the of the original 4 channel mix is better than anticipated. They even
retained some directional dialogue and the music score is majestic with the exception of when wolf whistles are worked into the tracks which was pretty hokey.

P.S. It's somewhat funny to think of a CinemaScope movie being 'anamorphically enhanced'
since the process itself was based on anamorphically squeezing a standard square
frame. It proves there's nothing new under the sun. Squeezing and unsqueezing
a square image to make it wider is what both formats are based on.
Good afternoon Richard. How was your night I hope you had a good showing I Just wanted to say I`ve always liked Mr. Roberts.
 

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Senior Shackster
Joined
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792 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
I did have a good showing. Surprised you didn't attend.

I like "Mister Roberts" too, but it could've been better if it was more cinematic
and not so stagey. The one scene when the film opens up is when they arrive
at the port and the sailors finally go on liberty and tear up the town. My guess is
that was one of the sequences that John Ford shot before he left the production.
Lots of camera movement and the picture comes alive...then again it was among the
sections that didn't involve Henry Fonda who seemed to be calling the shots for each
scene he was in. Stars should never be allowed to run a production. "Reel" motion pictures, that is those that are uniquely cinematic and use the medium to the best
advantage, are a director's medium. Actors are the tools of the director to be
utilzied for maximum impact within the filmmaker's unique style and perspective.
Never-ever-let actors call the shots or run the show. Of course I'm speaking from a director's perspective and biased toward movies where the filmmaker is an 'auteur'.
Ford was an 'auteur' within studio restrictions but certainly not on this movie.

Fonda's other production that he controlled in the fifties was "12 Angry Men".
A very good 'talking heads' movie but like this picture, not cinematic in any way,
shape, or form. The film bombed when it was released to theaters but became
a popular television broadcast over the decades which makes sense since "12
Angry Men" started as a teleplay and worked better in that medium.

In my acting class at NYU, I had to play the Captain in the scene when Roberts
makes a deal with him for liberty. I guess it was a good experience for me to
be on the other side of the aisle but I really hated performing or taking orders
from someone else. I wanted to jump off the stage and direct the other guy
playing Roberts and kept whispering suggestions to him out of ear shot of the
director (i.e. "use your cap as a prop and hit it for impact when pleading with me
for liberty"). My teacher said I would never be an actor but I had the
instincts of a director which I took as a compliment. That was fine by me because
I really despised acting and didn't like plays since you couldn't re-write the dialogue
like you could in a screenplay on set. I kept coming up with better lines that what
was written but on stage, the author's in control which puts the director in a
secondary position. So movies are the best medium for 'auteurs'.
 
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