Hail the Conquering Hero
Ever since Saving Private Ryan and that damned Tom Brokaw book was released 10 years ago, we've been hearing on and on how great the greatest generation really was. The band of brothers manage to overcome regional and cultural differences in order to fight the biggest battle ever fought and defeat the worst enemy we've ever seen. In that light, it's refreshing to see Preston Sturges' 1944 Hail the Conquering Hero mock the hero myth that war propagandists, and Hollywood in particular, was already crafting during the war. Affable Eddie Bracken plays Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, a Marine who, having been discharged for hay fever, is on his back to the homefront when he encounters a gang of soldiers who convince him to tell everyone that he was, in fact, a war hero. The town whips up a victory celebration for their newly minted hero, and even start up a mayoral campaign before Bracken knows how to respond. In classic Sturges fashion, the satire's sharpness is softened by a Hollywood heart that won't let things go too wrong, but it's easy to read between the lines here. If you thought President Bush's mission accomplished stunt was scandalous, it's heartening to see a movie that reminds you such fakery isn't new.