Sunday, August 15, 2010

How I Won the War

How I Won the War; War comedy, UK, 1967; D: Richard Lester, S: Michael Crawford, Roy Kinnear, Lee Montague, Jack MacGowran, John Lennon

The final days of World War II. British Lieutenant Ernest Goodbody gets captured by the Germans when his unit approaches the Rhine river. He makes friends with a German officer and tells him about his story: he underwent the military drill and got the command to take his unit, "Musketeers", and conquer an Axis powers held cricket-field in an oasis somewhere in the desert in north Africa. They managed to fulfill their task. Back in the present, Goodbody persuades the German officer to buy off the only Rhine bridge. He writes him a check and calls his unit. But as the Allied tanks pass the bridge, they roll over the German officer.

A noble mess, "How I Won the War" is a strange experience that flip-flops between numerous styles and methods to send its message about the senselessness of war. Catastrophically unfunny, this hermetic film seems completely disjointed in the first half, displaying some jokes that seem as if they were made by the Monty Pythons on LSD: for instance, what's so funny about two soldiers being completely painted - both their uniforms and skin - in green and pink color the whole time? Or that all of a sudden some soldier brings out a toy horse in front of the others? Or the caravan of army vehicles driving in circles in the African desert and one driver saying randomly: "Sir! Sir! Me feet sweat. Sir! Me feet sweat"? All these factors contribute to a storyline that's more gibberish than it is comprehensive. The sole visual style is fantastic, though (like in the aesthetic image of Goodbody swimming to the African shore and then spotting numerous land mines in the desert). The last third is the best contribution to the film, displaying some contemplative messages, both about war and life, tipping more towards the serious side - one of the great little "stolen" moments is when a soldier says this about killing: "It's easy! And it's getting easier and easier by the minute. And that's the problem!" - whereas fans should definitely see the film just for the small role of John Lennon as the wacky soldier Gripweed, who seems far less 'autistic' than the rest of the story.


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