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How I Won the War

July 13, 2009

by John Farr

If you enjoyed How I Won the War, you might also enjoy these great films:


A Hard Day’s Night

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

With “A Hard Day’s Night”, director Richard Lester not only unveils the inner workings of a rock n’ roll band experiencing a virtually unprecedented super-stardom, he also breathes new life into musical film itself. The disarming charisma and spontaneous energy of the Beatles made no traditional plot necessary. It was sufficient to portray a day in the life of the world’s most talked about rock band.“The boys”, as they’re constantly referred to, spend their time narrowly avoiding masses of hysterical fans, jumping into cars and trains which in turn take them to the next hotel room, or sound stage, or performance hall. They each face this hectic life with humor and relative calm. And then they perform!

WHY I LOVE IT:

Lester’s documentary-style shooting makes all the proceedings feel breathtakingly real- at first we assume everyone is improvising, though this was not the case. (Only John had the confidence to do it). Regardless, all four Beatles were natural performers, especially John and Ringo. The Fab Four are also matched here with fine British character actors like Norman Rossington (as their manager), and Wilfrid Brambell (as Paul’s incorrigible grandfather), who provide additional comic support and flavoring. “Night” remains the perfect introduction to Beatlemania for your kids- in all, a breathtaking, joyful musical ride.


Help!

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

When Eastern religious cultists Clang (Leo McKern) and Ahme (Eleanor Bron) discover that a sacred ruby ring has come into the possession of Ringo Starr-it seems a fan gave it to him and now he can’t remove it-they give chase. Exasperated, the Beatles drummer goes to scientist Foot (Victor Spinetti) for help. But Foot wants the ring for himself, so Ringo and the Fab Four lead the whole kooky crew on a globe-trotting, wild goose chase.

WHY I LOVE IT:

This fabulously goofy, intermittently brilliant romp features some of the finest pop music you’ll ever hear. Richard Lester’s “Help!” was the director’s second (and first color) collaboration with the world-famous Beatles. The “Fab Four”- John, Paul, George, and Ringo- evoke mod, mop-haired versions of the Marx Brothers, while the supporting players-including Roy Kinnear as Foot’s assistant-exhibit fine comedic timing. And McKern’s Clang strays about as far from his signature Rumpole portrayal as you’ll likely ever see. Ebullient, frenzied, silly, but always fun, “Help!” is a madcap portrait of four Liverpool lads who really were going places.


Petulia

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Archie Bollen (George C. Scott) is a middle-aged San Francisco physician in the midst of a divorce. After meeting Archie at a gala event, sexy, troubled socialite Petulia (Julie Christie) pursues him avidly, hoping to embark on a torrid affair, even though she is married to David (Richard Chamberlain), a handsome swinger with an abusive streak. But Petulia has another connection to Archie too, a secret bond she never divulges, even as their lives become increasingly tangled.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Set in San Francisco at the height of the Summer of Love, Lester’s stylish melodrama pays homage to the swinging sixties in more ways than one. Through jarring jump cuts, flashbacks and “flash forwards,” and glimpses of the Grateful Dead performing for a crowd of gyrating hipsters, the director evokes the psychedelic ethos of the era as a way in to the turbulent lives of Archie and Petulia, each of whom is suffering a private torment: she is a victim of abuse, while he just wants to “feel something.” Scott and Christie are exemplary in their roles, while Chamberlain gets to look pretty, sulk, and act like a cad. Lensed by Nicholas Roeg, “Petulia” is a trippy tale of love and confusion that explores the humid underside of flower power.


Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

In this satirical doomsday thriller, a U.S. bomber piloted by Major Kong (Slim Pickens) receives a signal to release its nuclear payload on Russia. When the unfortunate Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) seeks out Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) to learn why he ordered the drop, and why he’s placed his Air Force base on lockdown, it’s quickly evident the general has lost his marbles. Meanwhile, President Muffley (Sellers again) meets with senior advisers, including a hawkish general (George C. Scott) and the oddly sinister nuclear scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers), to review their limited options to save the planet.

WHY I LOVE IT:

The most inspired piece of Cold War satire ever and one of the screen’s supreme black comedies, Kubrick’s 1964 “Strangelove” confronted jittery audiences in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not long after the advent of the H bomb. With Kubrick’s twisted genius as director and screenwriter in full bloom, and peerless performances by Peter Sellers (in three roles), Scott, and the unhinged Hayden, the film is unbearably funny and extremely disturbing all at once.


M*A*S*H*

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Robert Altman’s black comedy details the shenanigans of three rogue surgeons (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Tom Skerritt) assigned to a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War. Their hijinks distract them from the daily horrors they face in the operating room.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Ground-breaking film is likely Altman’s greatest work, a subtle and seamless blending of comedy and anti-war film that’s as fresh and irreverent today as when released. (Extensive use of overlapping dialogue sequences was a first at the time.) Top-notch performances throughout and at times, unbearably funny.


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