Thursday, January 8, 2009

'Mister Roberts': A Wonderful Allegory On Fascism

By Manifesto Joe

Have you ever worked for a boss who seemed more than a bit like Mussolini?

The American classic Mister Roberts (novel, 1946, followed by the Broadway play in 1948 and the movie in 1955) would have to strike a familiar chord if you have. "Fascists" live and work all around us, every day. It's a state of mind. All that most of them lack is the opportunity to practice it on a grand scale.

The fascist in Mister Roberts is Capt. Morton, played most memorably on screen by the late James Cagney. (See the attached trailer.) Morton, the captain of a cargo ship operating in the Pacific during World War II, doesn't kill anybody. But what authority he exercises is that of a six-bit tyrant, so he's toxic to a lot of human spirits.

The guy who actually runs the crew and the ship is Lt. Doug Roberts, portrayed in a signature performance on stage and screen by Henry Fonda. He's a good intermediary between the inept swine of a captain and the crew below, but he's bored and anxious to actually get into the fight during the waning days of the war.

I've seen the film version of Mister Roberts a few times, and it reminds me of employment situations, time after time. Ultimately, it's fun to watch -- but it drives home the sad point that there are plenty of Mortons out there, basically just cancers festering on or near the tops of businesses or government agencies. There's an exchange in which Capt. Morton gets to explain to Roberts how he came to his malignant point of view. (" 'Hey, boy -- my friend seems to have thrown up on our table' ... I took it. I took it for years. Now I don't have to take it no more!' ")

What the novel, play and film depict is a microcosm of what tragically takes place from time to time among nations, on a broad and murderous macro scale. Most of us have known several Mortons -- and potential Mussolinis.

Here's an old-fashioned trailer, from 1955 -- in Cinemascope.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

Rush Limbaugh has already started referring to the current economic crisis as "the Obama recession." I was unaware that Obama had already been sworn in.

Manifesto Joe said...

No surprise to hear that Herr Rush is rushing things...