Commentary: ‘Mister Roberts’ comes to Liberty Theatre to salute Veterans Day


Historic theater in Camas brings Henry Fonda and cast to the big screen on 65th anniversary of film

Paul Valencia served in the Army for three years but his favorite movie is set aboard a ship in the U.S. Navy. “Mister Roberts” is coming to the Liberty Theatre in Camas.
Paul Valencia served in the Army for three years but his favorite movie is set aboard a ship in the U.S. Navy. “Mister Roberts” is coming to the Liberty Theatre in Camas.

A couple years ago, I noted how Veterans Day means more to me the older I get, the more time away from my own service as a soldier in the U.S. Army.

Oh sure, I was proud to serve at a young age. But maybe I wasn’t necessarily mature enough to really comprehend that service.

I do now. 

I really can appreciate Veterans Day. It is special.

Well, this year, the Liberty Theatre is making Veterans Day even that much more memorable for me. The historic theater in downtown Camas is showing my all-time favorite movie. “Mister Roberts” will be on the big screen this Saturday at 4 p.m. as well as on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

A poster for the 1955 classic “Mister Roberts.” The film will be shown twice in the coming days at the Liberty Theatre in Camas in celebration of Veterans Day. Photo courtesy Liberty Theatre
A poster for the 1955 classic “Mister Roberts.” The film will be shown twice in the coming days at the Liberty Theatre in Camas in celebration of Veterans Day. Photo courtesy Liberty Theatre

“It’s nice to see a classic film but also to remember the people who served our country,” said Rand Thornsley, owner of the Liberty. “We want to make a salute and honor them, to recognize Veterans Day.”

The Liberty has done other films for Veterans Day in the past. “Tora! Tora! Tora!” is a popular choice, Thornsley said. So, too, is “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” 

This year? Well, a certain journalist you know might have made a request a while back. Thornsley looked into it. Sure enough, it is the 65th anniversary of Mister Roberts. And the fee to show the movie was reasonable.

“This is the perfect time to run it, around Veteran’s Day,” Thornsley said. 

Under normal circumstances, with archival fees, it might not have worked out. With COVID protocols, Liberty is only allowed a maximum of 75 people in its 300-seat main theater. But the studios have been more generous during these times, Thornsley said. It made sense to book the film.

Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas. File photo
Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas. File photo

Oh, and moviegoers should know to buy your tickets online. Masks are required except for when eating concessions. And there are distancing requirements between parties. To purchase tickets, go to the Liberty’s website: https://www.camasliberty.com/

The movie is set aboard the cargo ship Reluctant, or “The Bucket” as the crew calls it, during World War II. 

Wait a minute? How is a movie that centers around the Navy the favorite movie of an Army soldier? I know. I know. To my fellow soldiers, my apologies. But please understand.

To be honest, I first saw the movie, at a theater that played classics, in the early 1980s before I joined the Army. Loved it then. Love it more today.

One could say my admiration for the film is greater now for the same reasons I appreciate Veterans Day more these days. Maturity. Understanding.

You see, Mister Roberts is on board the cargo ship, the support ship. He wants to be in the action, in combat. He craves it. Not to be a hero. Just to say he was part of the great campaign. On board The Bucket, he does not think he is doing much of anything for the cause. 

I, too, was “in the rear, with the gear” during my service. As a young soldier, I didn’t really think I was doing anything special.

Turns out, everyone in uniform has a job to support the mission. And all in the military took an oath.

That is real, regardless of the job one does while in the military.

The movie stars Henry Fonda as Mister Roberts, reprising the role he helped make famous on the stage. James Cagney is the captain of the ship, who does not get along with “college boys” such as Mister Roberts. Jack Lemmon is perfect as Ensign Pulver with his wild imagination. So perfect, in fact, he won an Academy Award. William Powell plays Doc, the voice of reason, the father figure to all.

The film is categorized as a comedy. And it is hilarious. The crew’s crazy time in port. The explosion in the laundry room. The nurses on the island. The palm tree. Oh, the famous palm tree. Sorry if those are spoilers, but the movie is 65 years old after all.

But what makes it my favorite movie of all time is how the humor is intertwined with the trauma of war, and the heart and soul associated with honor and duty.

Oh, and I could make the case that the absolute end of the movie is the greatest conclusion to a film you will ever see.

It is going to be fun to see it on the big screen once again.

And thank you to all veterans. 

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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