(Kevin Bacon, Charles Durning, et al / DVD / NR / (1984) 2008 / Acorn Media)
Overview: The time is 1945. The setting, a navy cargo ship far from battles raging in the Pacific. Longing to see real action, Lt. Doug Roberts (Robert Hays, Airplane!) wages a war of wills against Capt. Morton (two-time Oscar®-nominee Charles Durning), a petty tyrant whom the rambunctious crew considers "approximately God." Allied with Ensign Pulver (Kevin Bacon) and Doc (Howard Hesseman, WKRP in Cincinnati), Roberts finds himself torn between his ambition to serve his country and his duty to serve his men.
DVD Verdict: Television likes to pat itself on the back whenever it films live theater. While there's no doubt that the process captures an ephemeral cultural moment, for the most part, the filmed plays look like filmed plays. We never fully suspend disbelief because the stage set, which we accept as real when we're in the theater, looks like a stage set when we see it crammed into our 56-inch flat-screen TV.
Still, the 1984 filmed version of "Mister Roberts," the 1948 Joshua Logan-Thomas Heggen Broadway hit that became a successful film, has its charms, chiefly, the presence of Charles Durning as the petty, tyrannical captain of a supply boat during World War II; Robert Hays as the noble title character, who realizes too late that he has traded away his responsibility to his crew for personal advancement; and Kevin Bacon as the bratty Ensign Pulver.
The actors keep the production aloft but, overall, it doesn't work well as TV because the pacing of film acting is necessarily quicker than what you're used to seeing onstage. That means the dialogue is often stilted and not entirely believable. The 1955 film version, with James Cagney as the captain, Henry Fonda as Roberts and Jack Lemmon as Pulver, remains a very high water mark, but it's nice to see what competent stage actors Hays, Howard Hesseman (as Doc) and Bacon are.
Durning, of course, is an acting god. [DW] This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
A Background Essay "Mister Roberts on Stage and Screen" and Cast Filmographies.