Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Preston Sturges Retrospective 6 - HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO! is a movie that prefigures films like THE FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS but is all the more impressive because it was made while World War Two was still raging and because, in contrast to Clint Eastwood's earnest dirge, it dares to treat its subject comedically. Preston Sturges is arguably at his most political in the tale of a young soldier called Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) who is demobilised on a humbug and confused for a war hero. Pretty soon, egged on by "Sarge" Heffelfinger (Sturges regular William Demarest), Truesmith is the town hero. His mother's mortgage has been paid, and he's being offered the mayorship.

Despite its superficially syrupy concerns - the love story with the hometown sweet-heart - the humility of the naive protagonist - HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO is one of the most subversive movies ever made, especially when you consider the timing of the release. Preston Sturges satirises everything that makes up the iconic American ideal - smalltown values, sentimental treatment of the family home, hero-worship, and the ease with which the democratic political process can be corrupted. The dialogue is razor-sharp witty but also dangerous! A perfect combination.

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO was released in 1944 and was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar in 1945 but lost to biopic WILSON.

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