Hail the Conquering Hero Review

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Rejected by the Marines, hay fever sufferer Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith takes a shipbuilding job because he can't face his father. However, he invents war exploits and finds himself running for mayor against Everett J. Noble after Sergeant Heppelfinger persuades him to pose as a homecoming hero.


Preston Sturges found himself in Oscar competition with himself in 1945, when both The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and this caustic wartime satire were nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Ironically, he lost out to Lamar Trotti for Wilson, a biopic of the US President after whom Eddie Bracken's anti-hero was named.

Only Sturges could have gotten away with two such stinging assaults on the small-town America that Frank Capra had insisted had a heart even if it didn't always use its head. But what's most remarkable about this frantic farce is that the Breen Office sanctioned such a non-stop lampoon of patriotism, mother love, political corruption and bogus heroism at a time when the Second World War was far from won.  

Was this really the United States that the brave boys were fighting for, with its foolish fathers, doting moms and inconstant sweethearts being ready to swallow anything they were told by anyone in authority or uniform? No wonder several contemporary critics denounced Sturges for treating his characters and their values with contempt. Indeed, some even accused him of using long, tracking shots to follow them throughout the town as though they were specimens in a laboratory.  

 Yet, the fluid camera style roots the citizens firmly in their cocooned environment and reinforces Sturges's contention that you can fool most of the people all of the time. Moreover, it enabled him to pack the frame with characters who all have something to say and insist on saying it very quickly and at the same time as everybody else. Only a director working with a well-drilled stock company could execute such finely tuned dialogue (which rattles between wisecracks, fortune cookie philosophising and impassioned speeches) with such precision and the likes of William Demarest, ex-boxer Freddie Steele and Raymond Walburn (who is the embodiment of plutocratic graft) all excel beside Bracken's misguided milksop.