Sunday, November 10, 2019

THE SEND IN THE MARINES BLOG-A-THON: Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944


In celebration of the November 10, 1775 founding of the U.S. Marine Corps. the websites Dubsism and RealWeegieMidget Reviews are hosting The Send in the Marines Blog-a-thon. Click HERE  or HERE to begin reading. 


Aunt Martha (Elizabeth Patterson): "Well, that's the war for you. It's always hard on women. Either they take your men away and never send them back at all, or they send them back unexpectedly just to embarrass you. No consideration at all." 

Only the genius that was writer/director Preston Sturges could successfully spoof heroism, motherhood, romance, and democracy in the middle of a war, moving the audience from cynical laughter to sentimental tears.


From the opening tracking shot that leads from a bouncy up tune and an energetic tap dancer to an elegant singer and backup quartet unironically singing Home to the Arms of Mother, through a crowded nightclub to a dejected civilian, Woodrow Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) kibbitzing with a bartender (George Anderson) we are given a glimpse at the ride Sturges has planned.


Waiter: "Yes, Gentlemen."
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One Beer."
Waiter: "One beer?"
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One beer and no cracks." 

Out of the fog come six Marines. Down to their last 15 cents, they try to wrangle eats from the nightclub Manager (Paul Porcasi). He has been through this sort of thing before. Woodrow pays for their food and libations so naturally, they want to thank him. Nothing will be the same.

Woodrow was raised to be a Marine, having been born almost at the moment his father was killed at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI, receiving a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. Woodrow's new friend, Sergeant Heppelfinger (William Demarest) had been in the same battle and now feels an obligation to his old Sarge's son. One month after enlisting, Woodrow was medically discharged for chronic hayfever. Out of shame, he has delayed his homecoming. Working at a shipyard, Woodrow has let everyone thing he has been on active duty the past year.


Bugsy (Freddie Steele) is one of the Marines befriending Woodrow. Bugsy is an orphan and thinks Woodrow has acted shamefully toward his mother (Georgia Caine). Bugsy phones Mrs. Truesmith at home in Oakridge, California and tells her Woodrow is returning the very next day.

SgtHeppelfinger: "You gotta wear something. You can't come back from the Solomons with nothing. Not the son of Sergeant Truesmith." ... "I don't even remember what I got it for. I think it was for pulling a Frenchman out of a creek."

Sergeant Heppelfinger and the others come up with an ingenious plan to save Woodrow's face. He will be loaned a uniform with medals, and sneak home - mom will be happy and no one will be any the wiser. Woodrow is helpless in the face of this gung-ho's group desire to do him some good.


SgtHeppelfinger: "Lies! Those ain't lies! Those are campaign promises! They expect 'em!" 

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men! The entire town is at the railway station. Bands are playing. The mayor (Raymond Walburn) makes a speech. Woodrow's girl Libby (Ella Raines) pretends not to be engaged to the mayor's son Forrest (Bill Edwards). His mother's mortgage is forgiven, a statue is being planned, and the opposition party presses Woodrow to run for mayor. Sergeant Heppelfinger and crew perpetuate the fiction of Woodrow's heroism.


Jake (Al Bridge): "This is a free country. They can vote for whoever they like."
Mayor Noble: "But, that's disgraceful!"

The Sturges stock company of Demarest, Walburn, Bridge, Jimmy Conlon, Esther Howard, et al, are out in full force. Whether he fashioned his dialogue for their talents or it was the other way around or a bit of both, a Sturges film guarantees a myriad delight of language and acting.

Whether it is an intimate scene such as one between the mayor, his campaign manager and a dinner tray or a crowded railway station with four bands and an opera singer (Ida Kitaeva), Sturges is in full control of the movie and what he wants it to say. One viewing is hardly enough to capture all of the wit and the layers in the performances.

The comedy of misunderstanding is Sturges' forte and the misunderstandings and complications, plus the contrasting intentions keep mounting until the expected blowout and the unexpected lump in the throat end. Hail the Conquering Hero is a wild ride.


SgtHeppelfinger: "Give me those six tickets, will you? We still got a little work to do in our own line. So long, kid."
MrsTruesmith (to Bugsy): "Goodbye, dear."
Woodrow: "Will you come back?"
SgtHeppelfinger: "Well, we always come back before. So long, everybody. See youse in church."

The world is full of all types of heroes. Some of them wear uniforms. The raucous and foolhardy marines in our movie are soft enough to help out the son of an old pal. I'm sure their counterparts can be found in real life.


Of note

Freddie Steele, 1936 and 1937 World Middleweight Boxing Champion who played "Bugsy" was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989.


Veterans Day note

The following members of the Hail the Conquering Hero company served with the United States Army during World War One: Preston Sturges, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Al Bridge, and Robert Warwick.












28 comments:

  1. Thanks for your lovely contribution to our blogathon, this sounds an interesting film and one to check out thanks to your fab review.

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    1. Thank you, Gill. It had been in my mind to write about it for a while, but it took the blogathon to kick me into gear. I'm sure you'll appreciate and enjoy Hail the Conquering Hero.

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  2. It does sound fun from your description! And I loved that line written with more than a hint of intrigue... "I'm sure their counterparts can be found in real life."

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    1. Your comments will keep a smile on my face all day.

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  3. Just thinking about Sturges' best work makes me grin, so here I am a-grinning all the day. Lovely write-up that perfectly sums up the movie's appeal. One bit of trivia I'm surprised you didn't mention is that Ida Kitaeva, who played the opera singer in the movie, went on three years later to become Mrs. Stan Laurel in real life.

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    1. I was waiting for you to come along and mention Ida. I loved the bit in the biopic where that's all she seemed to talk about - glory days!

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  4. Great write up. A great Sturges movie and he made a lot them from 1940-1948. Watching my three Sons it never occurred to me that "Uncle Charlie" had been in movies. Later on I enjoyed him in "That Darn Cat" and "Mad, Mad, World". Whenever they needed a grumpy old guy with a heart of gold, he was there.

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    1. Demarest and Sturges are one of the great teams. Officer Kockenlocker is one of my favourite movie dads. He'll do anything for his girls - complaining all the while!

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  5. Sturges' genius wasn't just writing brilliant dialogue (which he did), but also in the inventiveness of his plots. As I watched this film for the first time, I kept pondering how it could possibly have anything approximating a happy ending. It seemed as if Sturges has painted Woodrow and himself into a corner. And then somehow, the movie ends on a positive note. Just amazing!

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    1. He drags us (happily) through all of the emotional turmoil with this over-the-top yet still relatable characters. I feel perfectly comfortable using "genius" to describe Sturges and I hesitate when it comes to others.

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  6. ELIZABETH PATTERSON! I remember her from I LOVE LUCY as MRS. TRUMBULL. She was the neighbor of LUCY & RICKY and she also babysat LITTLE RICKY. Her passing was in 1966-the same year as WILLIAM FRAWLEY who played FRED MERTZ on I LOVE LUCY. Also other passings that year were ALICE PEARCE(the original GLADYS KRAVITZ on BEWITCHED), CLIFTON WEBB that you just told about his movie SITTING PRETTY, and one of the most famous men in show business-WALT DISNEY. They are gone but they live on through TV, DVDs and streaming, etc. They also are in millions of peoples memories and hearts!

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    1. Many happy memories created by those mentioned.

      This piece on Elizabeth Patterson is ten years old (!!), but it shows my enthusiasm for the actress and her career: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2009/05/for-your-consideration-elizabeth.html

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  7. This is a little early but I want to thank all the veterans out there for their service to our country. HOME OF THE FREE BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE.

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    1. Our Remembrance Days in Canada are quite solemn. I assume they are the same in the States and I hope the commemorations lead to prayer and reflection in those who seek such solace.

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  8. I really like WILLIAM DEMAREST as UNCLE CHARLEY on MY THREE SONS. I have only seen the color ones. I later saw him in some classic movies including PARDON MY PAST(1945) and NEVER A DULL MOMENT(1950). They both starred FRED MACMURRAY that he worked with on SONS. Charley was the uncle of Steves late wife. I liked that everyone in the household called him UNCLE CHARLEY even BARBARA HARPER DOUGLAS who was the second wife of Steve. I liked the entire cast of MY THREE SONS. Im glad they added KATIE(wife of ROBBIE) and BARBARA played by BEVERLY GARLAND. I later became a big fan of BEVERLY.

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    1. My Three Sons if a favourite of mine. I enjoy it from its first season to its last. William Demarest was a great addition to the show.

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  9. I want to mention that WILLIAM DEMAREST was a veteran of WORLD WAR I. He was in VIVA LAS VEGAS with ELVIS PRESLEY. I remember that you said you didn't really care for the movie. I liked the part where LUCKY(Elvis) sent a tree to RUSTY(ANN-MARGRET). William played Rustys dad.

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    1. It's funny. I enjoy William Demarest in so many movies from Charlie Chan at the Opera to That Darn Cat!, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get into Viva Las Vegas.

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  10. Sturges was amazing! He managed to make fun of heroism at the height of WWWII! It was pretty gutsy!

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    1. Gutsy and successful. Some creators underestimate their audience. Sturges never did.

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  11. For some reason, I've not gotten around to seeing this film. But your review has given me a kick in the pants, so to speak, and I've bookmarked the rental link on YouTube. Thanks in advance! :)

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    1. You are very welcome in advance. I have complete confidence that this will turn out to be your cup of tea (with a kick).

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  12. I seem to recall that I read there was at least one BUGS BUNNY cartoon that had to do with WORLD WAR II. Did it later get banned from TV? Also there was a THREE STOOGES short about WORLD WAR II. I wonder if the studio, etc. got any backlash about it.

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    1. Warner Bros. made a lot of cartoons with Bugs and with Daffy that would appeal to the wartime audience, and they are funny still today if you know history. I don't know if they received backlash at the time, but certainly later for some of the racism.

      I remember the Stooges in You Nazty Spy! Sometimes the B unit movies could get away with stuff more scrutinized productions couldn't.

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  13. JIMMY HAWKINS is 78 today. He played one of the kids in ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE with JIMMY STEWART and DONNA REED. Later he did some episodes of THE DONNA REED SHOW and THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. He did two movies with ELVIS, GIRL HAPPY and SPINOUT. He had a very prolific career. Jimmy turned 5 the year ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE came out. He has written 5 books that have to do with that movie. According to imdb he has been married to LARA PARKER, best known for DARK SHADOWS, since 1985.

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    1. I recently watched Woman They Almost Lynched and Jimmy Hawkins had a small part in it. A successful marriage and making the most of his career is very impressive.

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  14. I don't think I have ever heard of FREDDIE STEELE before. In that picture he reminds me of JOHN WAYNE. I think that's kind of funny/interesting because there is a picture of JOHN WAYNE at the beginning of this page.

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    1. "Bugsy" may be the best role Freddie had as an actor, but it is still fun to spot him in various movies.

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