Hail The Conquering Hero

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HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO—-much praised comedy hit from 1944, a period success first and foremost, over the years considerably lessened in effect.  Social satirist Preston Sturges pokes at hero-worship (something aplenty in ’44), small-town patriotism in motivation and consequence, Mom n’ Apple Pie.

Eddie Bracken is ‘Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith’, son of the town hero.  He’s discharged from the Marine Corps, not from battle wounds but due to hay fever. Leatherneck sarge William Demarest and five hulking pals find the distraught lad in a bar and take it upon themselves to redeem his honor by fabricating war adventures, complete with medals, and foisting off the tales on the boy’s hometown. The hamlet buys the hype and goes bananas.

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Lots of funny bits and sharp characterizations—Demarest is swell—but the loud, super-fast pacing gets a bit wearying.  Too many years of screaming matches on TV situation comedies have taken a lot of the steam out of these old huff-puffers, muting their impact.

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Observation noted, film buffs should catch this without reservation. Sturges wrote as well as directed, and the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.  101 minutes, with Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Elizabeth Patterson, Jimmy Conlin, Freddie Steele, Franklin Pangborn, Chester Conklin, Paul Porcasi and Dewey Robinson.

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