Sunday, May 15, 2011

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO | 1944 | Screwball Victory Garden Style

Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith's father is a war hero, but he has just been booted out of the Marines after one month due to chronic hay fever.  While stewing on a bar stool, feeling like a failure, Woodrow happens to cross-paths with a batch of Marines (led by William Demarest) who deliver him home in a war-hero package.  Small, well-meaning, insignificant lies swell, and soon Woodrow (Eddie Bracken) is responsible for a massive boondoggle of his Mom, his girl and his entire beloved hometown.

This is screwball with a ration book.  The class conflict here isn't between the haves and have-nots of the Great Depression, it's between the powerful and powerless of WWII, with military and politicians as the haves and regular folk as the have-nots.

It's an inventive wartime reinterpretation of classic screwball, and is solidly successful screwball-wise, comedy-wise and rom-com-wise.  Though the nightclub isn't bright or posh and the music isn't lively or sexy - our heroes arrive broke and/or depressed, the windows are blacked out, and the singer croons about "Dear Old Mother" - it's still screwball.  Like other screwball antiheros, Woodrow must battle to preserve his integrity and earn his girl, only rather than dealing with a Manhattan businessman he's got to outsmart a pack of Jarheads and the civic leaders of his hometown.  Similar power issues, different players.  

Eddie Bracken and William Demarest are delightful in this wise, fair, and fully merciless lampoon of all America holds dear, but so rarely gets right.

Related Reading:
"When We Hated Mom," (New York Times, May 7, 2011)
Article about the changing perception, image and role of Mom in America.

Released: 1944
Director/Producer: Preston Sturges
Leads: Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, William Demarest
Writer: Preston Sturges (Oscar Nomination, also nominated for "The Miracle at Morgan's Creek" - same year, same category)
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Screwball
@ Amazon:  Hail the Conquering Hero