Hail the Conquering Hero Review

This title is also available as part of the 'Written and Directed by Preston Sturges' boxed set.

Hail the Conquering Hero sees Preston Sturges on similar territory to his earlier Christmas in July. Whereas that picture had Dick Powell hoodwinked into believing he had scooped a cash prize of $25,000, here we have an entire town convinced that one of their number is returning home a wartime hero. He’s Woodrow Lafayette Persian Truesmith, son of Hinky Dink Truesmith (himself a war hero of yesteryear), except that he’s never seen action, rather he was discharged one month into basic training with chronic hay fever. Still, monuments and nominations for mayor are impending as his little lie escalates beyond his control.

As played by Eddie Bracken it could be argued that Woodrow makes Hail the Conquering Hero the purest of Sturges’ pictures. Greatly resembling a relation of Jimmy Conlin, one of the director’s favourite supporting players, it’s as though the young lead has been promoted from this rogue’s gallery of character actors and earned his name about the title. Indeed, even Ella Raines as the romantic interest lacks the star power which normally bolstered Sturges’ efforts, rather she’s wispy enough so as to be almost immediately forgettable.

Moreover, Hail the Conquering Hero is continually pitched at the level which would normally occupy those scenes with, say, Franklin Pangborn or William Demarest in the director’s earlier works. Whereas before we would have these rougher moments counterbalanced with the smooth playing of a Henry Fonda or Veronica Lake, say, here this rawer side is allowed to run riot. Indeed, newcomers to Sturges may be best advised to sample the more palatable likes of The Lady Eve or The Palm Beach Story before trying on this louder, brasher beast.

That said, fans of Robert Altman may find much to enjoy in the film’s hectic, overlapping dialogue and small town microcosm populated entirely by misfits. A particularly nice moment for those who savour Sturges’ sardonic touch is the fact that the square jawed love rival – the only “normal” looking male in the picture – suffers from hay fever as chronic as our lead. We do, however, also find the director’s satirical impulses dulled somewhat by Hail the Conquering Hero’s subject matter. He’d only recently made Safeguarding Military Information, a short propaganda piece for the war effort also starring Bracken, and there’s a definite sense of flag waving to be detected here. Certainly, the jingoism of the home front provides plenty of comic mileage, but with its sentimental ending and speechifying, it’s hard not to feel that Sturges’ bite is missing a few teeth.

The Disc

Available as either an individual release or as part of Universal’s Written and Directed by Preston Sturges collection, Hail the Conquering Hero is perhaps the most disappointing of the seven discs. Despite being the only title to earn a dual-layered release, the picture quality is by far the poorest, whilst the extras don’t even amount to the theatrical trailer. Rather we simply have a murky print which gets the contrast levels wrong. Admittedly, it is on the clean side, but then it’s also far too soft in comparison to the other Sturges titles. The sound on the other hand is rather pleasing, as with many of the other discs it has the requisite clarity for a dialogue heavy picture and a welcome lack of technical difficulties.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:07:17

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