August 1, 1955 [Mister Roberts]

How did he manage it? How did the skinny kid with the tiny-duck voice and a frame always on the verge of a grand mal seizure out-maneuver Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and William Powell? Watching Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts isn’t quite nerve-wracking, but close enough, like that laundry-busting firecracker he concocts, blowing sudsy fun straight up the smokestack. All this in a picture that wants to be about Fonda’s Quiet Man vs. Cagney’s Hothead, only slightly less crazier than he was in White Heat. And the movie almost gets there, almost calms down enough to consider Fonda’s noble impatience--with an elegiac melody playing beneath, looking back at the War in the Pacific as a moment that offered an opportunity, one of those tests we’re supposed to be taking all the time--but there goes Lemmon--yes, learning his lesson, too, admonished to be a man--but still: There he goes, eager like a puppy on Benzedrine fetching nothing but himself, the nervy guest who stays a long while.


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