Director Richard Lester's first "serious" film, coming after the successes of his two Beatles musical comedies, hearkens back to his association with The Goon Show, and his first short, The Running Jumping Standing Still Film. It's filled with literate, densely allusive dialogue and sight gags that leave no sacred cow alive. Lester and screenwriter Charles Wood not only take on the most holy of modern wars, World War II, but they also satirize the conventions of war movies (the diverse company of soldiers, the cultured German, the unfaithful wife back home). Wood's screenplay makes no concession to non-British audiences, with frequent inside jokes about the British class system and culture, but that's a minor irritant. Though the narrative is fragmented by frequent time shifts, asides to the camera, and self-conscious framing devices, the camerawork (by Michael Watkin) and editing are actually calmer than in Lester's previous film, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. As he demonstrated in that film, the limber Michael Crawford is a superb physical comedian, but this film owes its real bite to its ear for telling dialogue, as when Roy Kinnear's Clapper says bitterly of his commander, "War is a picnic if left to the right officers." Ultimately, How I Won the War makes an important statement about the illusions of memory, that a soldier like Goodbody ("I try to find good in everybody," he says after a German officer admits he has killed many Jews) can shape collective memory of a war simply by surviving it.
by Tom Wiener review