Missed 'er? Go see 'er!
Henry Fonda reprises his role from a successful stage production as a cargo officer at the end of World War II, desperately wanting to get on a combat ship. Jack Lemmon earned an Oscar for his supporting performance as a randy ensign. Throw in veteran actors James Cagney and William Powell and you have a formidable lineup.
At the center of the film is the conflict Fonda has with the oppressive captain of his ship. Around the edges are the comic stories of the various crew which help to balance the film against that main plotline. Does it need to be balanced out like that? Obviously, this was inherited from the play, a medium more dependent on hitting the middle of the road, but there is lots of good material and tension to succeed without the distractions. Still, there is nothing distracting about the balance that was struck.
The film is filled with great moments. The bigger, more outrageous ones come from the peripheral comedy. I am partial to the subtleties of Fonda's character, though. He is struggling with conflicting goals and a sense of justice where justice cannot be counted on. Those moments with his character are deep and complex without dominating the action - a very delicate performance.
The ending is at least partly telegraphed in a way that might even feel manipulative, but manages to turn in a great closing moment that works on several levels.
For a military movie, this one is short on action, but that's very much on purpose. The point is what happens when there's been absolutely nothing going on. You want to watch this one for the characters and the performances.
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