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Hail The Conquering Hero ; 1944  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Posted by Maddy

Director: Preston Sturges
Actors: Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, William Demarest
Country: U.S.A.

Out of all of the reoccurring cast members of the Preston Sturges gang its William Demarest who does it for me. The wise cracking, dopey, tough guy sidekick is personified by Demarest. Whether it is the life long body guard who knows it’s the same dame in The Lady Eve or the musician who will happily recount the events of the night W.T.F. Morton cured his tooth ache in The Great Moment Demarest is always the one who shines the brightest for me. In Hail The Conquering Hero Demarest is at his best in this comedy about a returning ‘war hero.’
Poor Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith. With a father a great war hero he had spend his entire life preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps and join to his Marines now that World War II has begun. Much to his horror he is kicked out of the Marines due to chronic hay fever. Unable to tell his mother, who he knows will be heart broken at the news, he proceeds to tell her that he’s across the sea. An act of generosity on his part, paying for a squadron of Marines lead by Demarest, ends up turning out worst for him. The Marines convince him to call home claiming he’s on sick leave and they end up convincing his mother that he is a war hero. What he and the marines hope to be a slip into to town to see his mother and to slip out quickly turns out to be the entire town welcoming this “hero” back home. Woodrow ends up getting caught up in the festivities of his own heroic deeds constantly trying to get himself out of a mess that has quickly gotten out of his control.
After the celebration Woodrow is quickly selected as a candidate for mayor. One of the highlights of the film, at least for me, was Woodrow’s first ‘political’ speech where he does everything he can, without saying that he lied to everyone, to discourage the populous from voting for him. All it does is encourage them to want him for major even more. Demarest and the rest of his Marines offer ‘support’ to Woodrow throughout the film despite the entire situation being their fault. Their support includes lying on his behalf and making sure that he has made his mother happy. Like all classic Hollywood films Woodrow’s love interest is his ex-fiance. While ‘abroad’ he tells her that he has found someone else and wants her not to wait for him. She then becomes engaged to the mayor’s son, but throughout the film she realizes her feelings for him.

A film that could easily become stereotypical Sturges once again pushes the boundaries. Woodrow is not at fault for what happened to him – he tried to enlist in the army only to be rejected. The worst thing he did was attempt to save his mother from humiliation and it is far from his doing how quickly that spun out of control. The moral issues of the film are not in Woodrow’s deceit, but the profiteering and corruption of the current major. More interested in keeping his position than the well being of the town and his country during war time he is the ‘villain’ in a time of self sacrifice and humility. The leader of this all American town is self serving no matter what has happened is a bit of the not-so-subtle commentary of Sturges.
Sturges films are known for being upbeat with a mix of slapstick and banter. Certainly a different take on the war film Hail The Conquering Hero is far from his greatest work but reveals why he stuck with his cast of characters throughout his brief career.

IMDB Link: Hail The Conquering Hero
Where To Buy: Amazon

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