Hail the Conquering Hero (1944, Preston Sturges)

This was the Sturges movie I’d watched long ago and was starting to forget. Our latest screening was accompanied by squeals of delight whenever we noticed a Sturges regular, or someone from Sullivan’s Travels anyway. The butlers and Snowflake were disappointingly absent, but we got Jimmy Conlin (little guy, glasses) as a judge, the vaguely-familiar Harry Hayden (I thought for a minute that he was Charles Coburn) as an upright politician, TWO women from Remember the Night playing best friends, and the vertically-stretched Franklin Pangborn as a fussy master of ceremonies. But best of all, this movie features St. Paul’s own William Muggsy Bildocker Ale-and-Quail Kockenlocker Demarest in his largest role yet, as the Marine sergeant who helps our hapless hero concoct his big lie.

foreground L-R: Sarge, Woodrow, Woodrow’s mother, a mother-obsessed marine:

And oh, just thinking of Franklin Pangborn’s attempt to control four different brass bands for Eddie Bracken’s homecoming ceremony reminds me, this is certainly Sturges’s loudest-ever film, as talky and noisy and shouty as they come. All the excitement gets poor Eddie so nervous – and he’s so good at acting nervous – I kept wanting to comment that he’s seeing THE SPOTS, but Katy doesn’t remember The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek well enough to get the reference. Even if we didn’t see the spots, the movie makes a more direct reference by outright showing us the poster for Morgan’s Creek as the Marines’ train pulls away during the final scene.

L-R: Mayor Noble, his wife, Libby, and Forrest (Bill Edwards):

The Mayor is Raymond Walburn – see also his Christmas In July screenshot standing alongside Franklin Pangborn, whose character in this movie wouldn’t settle down long enough for me to snap a picture of him – with wife Esther Howard (also wife to the Weenie King). Lead girl Ella Raines (no relation to Claude) seemed like a big nobody – but she starred in Siodmak’s Phantom Lady and appeared in Dassin’s Brute Force, so I guess she’s somebody. Edwards was cast because he’s a stiff, uninteresting fellow, something that didn’t help his film career elsewhere.

Eddie Bracken’s Woodrow has a family history in the Marines but was personally discharged for having hay fever (a less funny premise than THE SPOTS), so he’s sulking in a bar, too ashamed to come home, when he buys Sgt. Muggsy’s group some drinks and they coerce him into returning to his home town as a war hero. It all gets immediately out of hand, and a few days later Woodrow is about to be elected mayor – and about to be exposed as a fraud by his opponent – when he confesses all to the townsfolk… and… gets elected mayor anyway! I would elect Eddie Bracken mayor, no question. Also Woodrow’s girl before the war is now the fiancee of the new mayor’s son Forrest, but she delays telling Woodrow for so long that she finally just leaves Forrest.

The heroine’s aunt, Elizabeth Patterson below at right, appeared in Remember The Night, also as a kindly aunt. The hero’s mother, Georgia Caine below at left, also appeared in Remember the Night – but as Stanwyck’s bitter, terrible mother.

Related posts