Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Mister Roberts (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Mister Roberts (1955)

In this war-time comedy-drama, the crew of a WWII re-supply cargo ship (the USS Reluctant) in the South Pacific were brought together to face and defy their tyrannical ship captain:

  • the scene of Lt. Douglas 'Mister' Roberts' (Henry Fonda) expression of disgust for Lieut. Commander 'Captain' Morton's (James Cagney) palm tree (given as a reward for efficiently moving the most cargo), as he spoke to the ship's physician Lt. 'Doc' (William Powell) early one morning: ("I looked down from our bridge and saw our captain's palm tree! Our trophy for superior achievement! The Admiral John J. Finchley Award for delivering more toothpaste and toilet paper than any other Navy cargo ship in the safe area of the Pacific"); the tree became a symbol of the Captain's authoritarian rule
  • the portrayal of Lt. Roberts as a well-liked officer who reluctantly served on the WWII naval cargo ship 'bucket' USS Reluctant (known as "The Bucket") while pining for real war action - he yearned for a transfer into a combat zone but was never granted a transfer: ("Well, I don't want to be here, I wanna be out there. I'm sick and tired of being a lousy spectator")
  • the character of cowardly and lazy, prank-playing Ensign Frank T. Pulver (Oscar-winning Jack Lemmon), the laundry and morale officer
  • the scene of Mister Roberts' confrontation with tyrannical and pompous "Captain" Morton when blackmailed to refrain from continually writing letters to request a transfer off the ship, in exchange for 'liberty' shore leave for the crew: (Captain: "There's a war on and l'm Captain of this vessel. And now you can take it for a change. The worst thing l can do to you is to keep you right here, Mister! And here is where you're going to stay! Now, get out!" Mister Roberts: "What do you want for liberty, Captain?" Captain: "You are through writing letters ever." Mister Roberts: "Okay." Captain: "And that's not all. You're through talking back to me in front of the crew. When l give an order, you jump!"); the crew was anxious and itching to be granted shore leave after more than a year aboard the ship (after spotting nurses on the dock); the Captain insisted that only Roberts and Ensign Pulver would be allowed onshore to pick up supplies; during his shore leave, Pulver convinced Lieut. Ann Girard (Betsy Palmer), one of the nurses, to meet him later onboard the USS Reluctant
  • the humorous scene of Lt. 'Doc' and Lt. Roberts mixing up a batch of scotch (from water, Coke, and a "drop of iodine for taste", and "one drop of hair tonic for age") for Pulver's R&R aboard ship with the visiting nurses; Pulver was pleased with the results: ("Smooth! That dumb little blonde will never know the difference!") and then sang to himself: ("She won't know the difference. She won't know the difference....She'll never know the diff-er-ence''); however, the plan of seduction failed
  • Lt. Roberts' assessment of Pulver: ("There's no getting around the fact, you're a real likeable guy, but...well, l also think you're the most hapless, lazy, disorganized and, in general, the most lecherous person l've ever known in my life"); Pulver complained: ("l am not!...I'm not disorganized for one thing!")
  • Pulver's cock-eyed scheme on VE Day to explode a homemade firecracker (with "fulminate of mercury") under the Captain's bunk ("We're gonna heave a firecracker under that old man's bunk and BAM, BAM, BAM. Wake up, you unpatriotic old slob. It's VE Day. Did you ever see such a hand-painted, hand-packed firecracker in your life?"); his plan backfired when it blew up the laundry and caused an overflow of soapy suds throughout the ship's corridors
Pulver's Disastrous VE Day Firecracker Scheme - Soapy Explosion
  • with the war soon coming to a close, Roberts gave up hope that he would ever serve combat duty; he gave a salute to the Captain's revered palm tree before heaving it off the ship, causing an incensed Captain Morton to vow to find the culprit: ("All right! Who did it? Who did it? You are going to stand sweating at those battle stations until someone confesses! It's an insult to the honor of this ship! The symbol of our cargo record has been destroyed and I'm going to find out who did it if it takes all night!")
  • the revelation that 'Mister' Roberts was the culprit when the crew heard (over the PA system) the Captain's strong-armed tactics and dastardly bargain with Roberts - (about the crew's shore leave in exchange for an end to his letters) - and as a result, the crew had renewed respect for their officer for sacrificing his own ambitions for them
  • the crew helped to forge a transfer request for Mister Roberts (including the Captain's signature), and Roberts was successfully transferred to a combat ship; Pulver was promoted to Roberts' vacated position as cargo officer, and the Captain brought in a scrawny replacement palm tree for the deck
  • there were two concluding letter-reading scenes (both read by Ensign Pulver for the crew) with the first letter from 'Mister' Doug Roberts (written three weeks earlier) who was now serving his new assignment on board the USS Livingston during the Battle of Okinawa, including his statement that he would rather have his old crew's hand-made Order of the Palm medal than the Congressional Medal of Honor: ("Doc, I've been aboard this destroyer for two weeks now, and we've already been through four air attacks. I'm in the war at last, Doc! I've caught up with that task force that passed me by. I'm glad to be here. I had to be here, I guess. But I'm thinking now of you Doc, and you Frank. And Dolan, and Dowdy, and Insigna and everyone else on that bucket. All the guys everywhere who sail from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony. This is a tough crew on here, and they have a wonderful battle record. But I've discovered, Doc, that the unseen enemy of this war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and therefore, a terrible sort of suicide. And I know now that the ones who refuse to surrender to it are the strongest of all. Right now, I'm looking at something that's hanging over my desk. A preposterous hunk of brass attached to the most bilious piece of ribbon I've ever seen. I'd rather have it than the Congressional Medal of Honor. It tells me what I'll always be proudest of - that at a time in the world when courage counted most, I lived among 62 brave men. So, Doc, and especially you, Frank, don't let those guys down. Of course, l know that by this time, they must be very happy because the Captain's overhead is filled with marbles. And here comes the mail orderly. This has to go now. l'll finish it later. Meanwhile you guys can write too, can't you? Doug")
  • during the second letter reading, this one from Pulver's friend Fornell (also on the USS Livingston), Pulver was stunned by the news that Mister Roberts had died in action during a kamikaze raid: ("Mister Roberts is dead. This is from Fornell. They took a Jap suicide plane and killed everybody in a twin 40 battery and went right on through and killed Doug and some other officer, in the wardroom. They were drinking coffee when it hit")
  • with a determined and resolute look on his face, Pulver tossed the Captain's replacement palm tree off the ship's deck into the water, entered the bridge, banged on Captain Morton's door, and finally stood up to him - with the film's final line of dialogue about his complaint that the movie to be shown that night had been cancelled: ("Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin' palm tree overboard! Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight?"); obviously, the spirit of Mister Roberts would live on in Pulver
Resolute Pulver
Tossing 2nd Palm Tree Off Deck
"I just threw your stinkin' palm tree overboard"

Crazed Sailors Viewing Nurses on Shore

Lt. 'Mister' Roberts with Lt. 'Doc' Complaining About the Captain's Palm Tree

Ensign Frank T. Pulver (Jack Lemmon)

Lt. 'Mister' Roberts Complaining to Captain Morton (James Cagney)

'Doc' Mixing Up Home-made Scotch

Visiting Nurses Aboard Ship Given Tour by Pulver

'Mister' Roberts Heaving Captain's Palm Tree Off Ship

Pulver's Reading of 'Mister' Roberts' First Letter

Pulver After Reading of Second Letter ("Mister Roberts is dead...")


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