HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, 1944
Cast: Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Elizabeth Patterson
Woodrow LaFayette wants to join the Marines, but he's 4F. So he leaves his hometown and with friends, who send postcards from all over the war theaters, and he fakes a heroic career. This has its consequences...
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He made satires out of it all; politics, Hollywood, corporate America, love, divorce, morals. Now, renowned comedic director Preston Sturges is at it again. This time he has turned his attention to war and patriotism in Hail, The Conquering Hero (1944). Like in all other Sturgesí films, Hail continues the Sturgesí trend of placing people in awkward situations and seeing how these people deal with it when all does not go according to plan. He also pokes fun at tradition and our inherent moral codes. He makes us question our motives. His films are incredibly complex but from the outside, appear so simple. Sometimes you donít even comprehend what Sturgesí has just said until after the film is long over. Perhaps it was the fact that Sturges started out as a screenwriter, working for years before transitioning to writer/director, that he learned to master his art so well.
Hail the Conquering Hero stars Eddie Bracken as Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, a marine who has been discharged due to Hay Fever. Unable to show his face in his home town again, he stays in San Diego. He works in a shipyard, feigning fighting in World War II across seas to his family back home. When real marines find out what Truesmith has been doing, they vow to bring him back home to his worried family. To avoid embarrassment, they give Truesmith their medals so he can tell his mother that he was a war hero.
However, when he returns home, he is welcomed by the entire town who has turned out to salute their hometown hero. He must now keep up the illusion so as not to disappoint his family and the girl he left behind. The stakes get even higher when his town elects Truesmith to the candidacy of mayor, running against the father-in-law of the girl he wants.
Though some people could look at this film and think Sturges is making light of war, he does so without being insulting. He is taking a bad situation and just making his audience look at it from a different angle. Thereís no harm in that. Plus the War Department, who reviewed all scripts dealing with war, even approved the final script. Besides, during these hard times, everyone needs to laugh a little. Itís what he does in all of his films; taking unfortunate situations and putting his Sturgesí touch on it. Heís classy, never resorting to bad taste.
As with all great films, Hail the Conquering Hero is not just a straight up mindless comedy. Itís multi-layered, including dramatic moments and comedic moments within a five minute time span. Itís thought provoking and questions our ideals. You will enjoy the show itself, being thoroughly entertained and then when you get done watching it, the true intention will really set in. Why are we so susceptible to accepting heroes in our cultural?
As with other Sturgesí films, it looks at this prideful country straight in the face, small town America. It puts everyone under a microscope, analyzing why we do the things we do and asking who makes the decisions. What is so apparent after watching his films, is that, for the most part, people have not changed. Everyone still wants the fairy tale ending, but are snapped back into reality instead. That, and, we all still love to laugh.