How I Won the War (1967)

“Give the British soldier plenty of tea, and there you are: he’ll die for you.”

Synopsis:
A group of British soldiers, led by inept Commander Goodbody (Michael Crawford), is assigned the task of clearing a mine-ridden cricket field in North Africa.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes this Richard Lester anti-war spoof as “shaky but funny and fanciful”. I agree, although I wasn’t quite as impressed with it as Peary seems to be, given that the “absurdity of war” trope has been played out numerous times since this film’s release, and to stronger effect (I’m thinking in particular of Three Kings, 1999). In addition, as Roger Ebert points out in his rather uncomplimentary review (see link below), it’s difficult for American audiences to understand what the British actors are saying much of the time. Finally, John Lennon — the major attraction for many would-be viewers, especially given that his face envelops the video/DVD cover — plays such a minor role that I’m tempted to sue for false advertising! It is actually spindly-legged Michael Crawford (of Phantom of the Opera fame) who is the primary protagonist — and narrator — of the movie, and he carries the role well. The film’s best moments occur when Crawford is befriending the German commander in his POW camp — an “absurd” situation with the potential for genuinely radical consequences, yet one which is sadly underdeveloped.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Clever use of colored costumes to designate dead soldiers rejoining their platoon
    Soldiers
  • The soldiers casually stirring desert sand into their tea cups instead of sugar
  • Goodbody’s short-lived friendship with his German POW commander

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its (minor) place in film history.

Links:

One Response to “How I Won the War (1967)”

  1. Not a must.

    A Richard Lester movie is one in love with itself.

    And this is no exception.

    Not that there are exceptions. But his more successful films (i.e., ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’) contain elements that supersede his importance. Here, Lester has a top-notch cast; however, they’re simply subservient to his ‘vision’ – which includes a superficial recognition of the horrors of war.

    It’s true that much of the film seems mumbled by the cast. It’s true that much of Lennon’s ‘performance’ seems spliced-in. It’s also true that the best part of the screenplay is the under-developed relationship between Crawford’s character and the German commander.

    Quite apparent is that the film’s chief asset is DP David Watkin (‘Mademoiselle’, ‘Catch-22’, ‘The Devils’, ‘The Boy Friend’, ‘Out of Africa’, etc.). The look of the thing is often breathtaking. If only a real film went with the expert visuals.

    All too soon, this becomes one-note and tiresome.

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