Monday, October 11, 2010

The next round of Critics' Choice

Round three of TCM's Critics' Choice programming continues this evening with a couple of fairly well-known movies mixed in among the selections. First up is David Denby from The New Yorker magazine; he has selected
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep at 8:00 PM ET followed by
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and the most boring man since Ralph Bellamy in the comedy His Girl Friday at 10:00 PM.

After that is Robert Bianco from USA Today, the newspaper for people who like their news in factoids and colorful charts. His first selection, at midnight, is The Perils of Pauline, a 1940s movie starring Betty Hutton about Pearl White, the women who played Pauline in the silent serials.

At 2:00 AM comes Bianco's second selection, Hail the Conquering Hero. One of the movies from director Preston Sturges' productive period in the mid-1940s, the movie stars Eddie Bracken as Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (you can tell it's a Preston Sturges movie just from the names), a young man who never met his father, the father having died a hero in World War I. It's World War II now, and Woodrow would like nothing more than to servie in the Marines like his father did, so that he too could be a hero. The only problem is that Woodrow couldn't make it in the Marines, as he was drummed out for having terrible hayfever. He couldn't bring himself to tell the folks back home, though, as it would break the heart of his mother and girlfriend (Ella Raines). That is, until he meets a bunch of Marines led by Sgt. Heppelfinger (frequent Sturges cast member William Demarest). Heppelfinger and his men, on hearing Woodrow's predicament, vow to take him home in uniform.

Somebody said honesty is the best policy, and that's a message that should probably have been heeded here. The town, or at least most of it, welcomes Woodrow home as a hero, and one they particularly need. Mayor Noble (Raymond Walburn) and the rest of the town administration has been run by a political machine that has been better for the machine than it has for the town, and only a hero like Woodrow can take on the machine in the upcoming election and defeat it. That, however, requires having an honest-to-goodness hero, which we know Woodrow isn't. Worse, honesty may cause Woodrow to lose his girl, but if she finds out he's been lying to her, that may just make her drop him, too. It doesn't help that Sgt. Heppelfinger and his men are doing everything they can to keep up the ruse.

Hail the Conquering Hero is typical of Preston Sturges' great satires from the 1940s. It takes about as many shots at the establishment as it could for a movie from World War II, and does so without ever letting up on the humor. It helps, of course, that Bracken and Demarest are so good at humor. Personally, I prefer The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, but quite a few critics think Hail the Conquering Hero is better. Either way, they're both worth watching.

Hail the Conquering Hero has been released to DVD, but Amazon only seems to list it as being available as part of a box set.

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