Friday, June 22, 2007

George Clooney as Mr. Roberts

By Lars Trodson

As a fan of the movie "Mister Roberts", it has been a happy shock to re-read the novel on which it is based. The original book, the one work by writer Thomas Heggen, was published in 1946, became a huge hit on stage with Henry Fonda, and was turned into the famous film in 1955. The cast is perfect, in its own way: Fonda as the beloved Lt (jg) Doug Roberts, Jack Lemmon as Ensign Frank Pulver, William Powell as Doc and James Cagney as the hated Captain.

Aside from Lemmon, the casting bears little resemblance to the characters described in the book. Roberts is 26 (Fonda was in his 40s), the Doc is 36 (Powell, in his final film appearance, was about 60) and Cagney was 55. The film works anyway, and it settles nicely in the minds of almost everyone who has seen it.

I read the book many years ago, but I had forgotten how lovely and mournful it is. The chapter when Mr. Roberts stands the late watch is, to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful chapters ever written in an American novel. It is regretful and nostalgic and touching, and I can't remember reading anything quite like it.

There is also nothing like it in the movie, which is robust and fleshed out with slapstick humor, and the deep well of sadness that is inside Mr. Roberts is not explored (I have not read the stage version, which I hear is much different than the film).

It occurred to me, after I put the book down one night, that a faithful adaptation of the novel would be a perfect project for George Clooney and his Rat Pack pals. I think Clooney is a fine actor -- they all are in those Ocean movies -- but the films are much lighter than the actors in them. While Clooney is the same age as Fonda was in the 1955 film, he exudes that easy charm, but also he comes across as more whole, and sadder sometimes (see "Syriana.")

That would be a dream project for those guys, and it would be good for them, and good for us, to take it up.

Speaking of dream movie projects, I decided on one more, this one never to be realized: Jackie Gleason as Nero Wolfe in a screen adaptation of any of the novels directed by Orson Welles. That would have been ideal.

If any one out there has a fantasy film project, post it here.

Buy it here:

Mister Roberts