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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

ENSIGN PULVER (1964)

Picking up the MISTER ROBERTS storyline a couple of months after the original film ended turns out not to be such a great idea. Unhappy with the first film, Joshua Logan, the play’s original director/co-author, had the reins right from the start this time, so has no one to blame but himself. It’s mostly more of the same: boredom, highjinks & a tyrannical captain on a WWII cargo ship, played in lumpy start-and-stop fashion. (Logan never did figure out film direction.) It’s as if he’d been rummaging thru first drafts of the playscript or sampling deleted scenes from the 1955 film. And when a new situation does show (Pulver & Captain fall overboard and deal with appendicitis), it’s a bad one. Missing the eponymous ‘Mister’ of the original, there’s no ballast for the support to play off of. (Comic handball without a back wall.) But good for talent-spotting with a host of up-and-comers on the deck: Jack Nicholson & Dick Gautier; Peter Marshall & James Coco; Larry Hagman & Al Freeman; many more, all working too hard for meager laughs. But then, so too the three leads: Walter Matthau’s over-scaled ‘Doc,’ parsing his gags; Burl Ives, bloated & yelling as the captain; and Robert Walker Jr,, indicating to beat the band as Pulver, he might be playing to a sit-com laugh track. All told, we're nearer McHALE’S NAVY than MISTER ROBERTS.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The original MISTER ROBERTS wasn’t the great film everyone hoped for, but it comes across. OR: Recreate the ship’s film night, retitled DR. JEKYLL MEETS FRANKENSTEIN it’s really clips from THE WALKING DEAD/’36, a Michael Curtiz/Boris Karloff horror programmer that looks mighty tasty. (Not seen here.)

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