In the waning days of World War II, the United States Navy cargo ship ''Reluctant'' (also called “The Bucket”) and her crew are stationed in the "backwater" areas of the Pacific Ocean. The executive officer/cargo chief, Lieutenant (junior grade) Douglas A. "Doug" Roberts (Henry Fonda), tries to shield the dispirited crew from the harsh and unpopular captain, Lieutenant Commander Morton (James Cagney). Eager to join the fighting, Roberts repeatedly requests a transfer. Morton is forced by regulation to forward his requests, but refuses to endorse them, which means that they are always rejected. Roberts shares quarters with Ensign (rank) Frank Thurlowe Pulver (Jack Lemmon). Pulver spends most of his time idling in his bunk and avoids the captain at all costs, so much so, that Morton is initially unaware that Pulver is part of the crew. Once discovered, Pulver cowers before Morton despite bold ideas for revenge expressed to the crew.
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