Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Satire, Comedy of Errors, Screwball Comedy  |   Release Date - Aug 9, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Writer and director Preston Sturges had a keenly satiric eye for the foibles of the average American, which he rarely used with greater precision than in Hail The Conquering Hero, a superbly funny example of satire that doesn't jab but prods gently. Eddie Bracken never worked with a director more sympathetic to his talents than Sturges, and he gives one of his finest performances as the hapless Marine Corps washout Woodrow Truesmith, and William Demarest is great as an often petulant Marine Corps sergeant who helps goad Woodrow into posing as a war hero; like the other members of Sturges' informal stock company, Demarest didn't often get roles as well-written as he had here, and he rose to the occasion admirably. As was often the case in Sturges' comedies, Hail the Conquering Hero sets up a fairly simple comic premise and then allows it to grow like kudzu; what starts as a well-intentioned white lie by Woodrow turns into a mammoth hoax that gets funnier as it grows larger and more improbable (after all, Woodrow looks as likely to live up to his mother's dreams of becoming a war hero in the Marine Corps as he is to be named Miss America). And while, as in most Sturges movies, things don't work out as Woodrow had planned, they do work out for the best; if he isn't exactly heroic, he's good at heart (as one of the Marines who sets the plan into motion points out, he lives by the slogan "Semper Fidelis" as much as any of them, though his loyalty is to Mom rather than the Corps), and if the citizens of his home town seem easily fooled, they're also willing to forgive. If Hail the Conquering Hero shows that regular folks have an amazing penchant for doing silly and absurd things, it's balanced by their basic decency, a balance that keeps the film's satire admirably good-natured even at its sharpest.