23 October 2005 | theowinthrop
An Interesting Variant on the Classic Film
This live production was done in 1984, and was pretty good. The cast was not as great as the film's, but it was a fine production. The performances of Charles Durning as the Captain and Howard Hesseman as Doc were particularly memorable. Hesseman was, if possible, more laid back approaching Doc's character than Powell had been. Durning made the Captain more of a calculating sneak than Cagney did.
To fully explain my comment about Durning: in the film Cagney addresses the men after they have had their shore-leave. Cagney tells them they have been pretty smart getting him kicked out of port, but they will now pay for it by working twice as hard, and that Fonda will make sure of it. In the film Cagney adds that if Fonda does a good job he might get a promotion, and adds "You'd like that, wouldn't you Mr. Roberts!". The men get the impression that Roberts has sold them out for a promotion. But the scene is set so publicly, with Cagney and Fonda at quite a distance apart, that it looks like a spur of the moment action by the Captain. It does catch Fonda by surprise, but he controls his reaction quickly enough due to the pressures of the moment.
But in the television version, Durning adds a sly twist that is not in the film. He is not separated from Robert Hays like Cagney was from Fonda, and when he announces a possible promotion to an astonished Hays, Durning says (sotto voce), "Didn't expect THAT, did ya!" It was a nice added touch.
So was the handling of the "surprise attack" sequence. When the men are called out because of the Captain's siren, Durning is hearing the crew's names read as he tries to ferret out who threw off the palm tree. Cagney did the same in the film. When they reach Ensign Pulver's name, Cagney handled the line, "Pulver...Pulver...(his face breaking into a rare smile for the character with a trace of a laugh in his voice)...Pulver wouldn't have the guts." In the movie the line is given in the Captain's room on the bridge. In the play, the men have been running around. Pulver (Kevin Bacon), has been running in his shorts and life-belt about the ship's deck. Over the ship's intercom system, Pulver and the crew hear the Captain (Durning) saying the same line more fiercely and dismissively, "Pulver, Pulver wouldn't have the guts!" Bacon looks both surprised and hurt at being so unimportant to a man he pretends to wish to annoy.
This only shows the value of good productions of works of merit - one can reconsider the dialog of the work by the ways the actors present it.