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Essential Cinema: Hail the Conquering Hero

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 30, 2010 9:15PM

image via DVD Beaver
Cynical patriotism? Such a thing does exist--and it made its way onscreen in 1944, courtesy of brilliant comedic filmmaker Preston Sturges.

With a laugh that resembles the hinges on a squeaky barn door, Eddie Bracken's skinny-as-a-beanpole "hero" isn't a hero at all. Although descended from a long line of military he-men, Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith was discharged from the Marines because of his chronic hayfever. He never saw a single day on the battlefield, and out of shame he never wrote home about it. He'd like nothing better than to "return from the war" as quietly as possible. But after telling his story to a bunch of sympathetic Marines in a bar, they deck him out in a uniform festooned with medals, preparing him for the ultimate homecoming.

Without spoiling the delicious complications which follow, suffice it to say that Small Town America must have its hero. Whether Woodrow wants to be one or not. Hail the Conquering Hero dates from WWII, but it's hard to say that much has changed. This daring comedy is as timely (and funny) as ever, jam-packed with dialog that's equal parts hilarious and stinging (example: "That's one of the weaknesses of the military viewpoint: doesn't always recognize the importance of civilians in wartime.") Sturges is fighting for the idea that the love of one's country ought to go deeper than a statue in a park, or parlaying one's service record in a run for mayor, and uses laughter as his weapon. It's a great movie to catch up with over the holiday weekend.

Hail the Conquering Hero screens at Doc Films on Friday, at 7:00 and 9:00