How I Won the War
How I Won the War, Richard Lester’s surrealist, absurdist, anti-war film stars Michael Crawford as an unfit lieutenant leading a poorly trained unit of the British army. Just prior to this film, Lester directed A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. Having worked with The Beatles before, it’s not too much of a surprise that John Lennon has a significant role in How I Won the War. Though not the most popular film in Lester’s filmography, and having received mixed reviews since its initial release, How I Won the War is still an interesting movie. Not to mention, it boasts Lennon’s only starring role in a non-Beatles film.
Lieutenant Goodbody (Michael Crawford) leads a unit of inept soldiers on a series of misadventures during WWII. The military lacks in funds and the unit suffers in training. After several surreal and mostly absurd scenes, the unit is finally given a task, to set up a cricket pitch behind enemy lines, which is also absurd. As the film goes on, Goodbody loses the various men of his unit. However, Goodbody always manages to survive.
Though this film definitely isn’t for everyone, it is an interesting visual experience. War is hard to categorize and there really isn’t another film like it. Its style falls somewhere between the Marx Brothers and Jean Luc Godard, with a heavy dose of British humor thrown in. The humor, like the film itself, doesn’t always hit its mark, but there are enough interesting moments to make the film worthwhile.
Many who seek out War will probably be Beatles fans. Though a kinship with the fab four won’t guarantee the enjoyment of this film, the presence of John Lennon as Gripweed certainly adds another dimension to the film. Other than some shorts and the aforementioned Beatles films, this is the only chance people will get to see Lennon on screen. If for nothing else, seeing Lennon act is reason enough to view this film.
War came out in 1967. This was before both MASH and Catch-22, two somewhat similarly themed dark war comedies. Though probably not as good as these films, there is something to be said for War being first. The film’s unflinchingly absurdist viewpoint and style are at least interesting, even if not always enjoyable. Along with the starring role by Lennon, these things make this film a curiosity of cinema history. War is definitely a cult film worth watching.