Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

How I Won the War


Oh, my, how long I have waited to see this film again. It has never been available in NTSC video, but I stumbled on this at Movie Madness (“The Biggest Video Store in the World!”) in a PAL version that the clerk said would play on my Blu-Ray. And it did.

I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece. It isn’t. But I am a huge fan of Richard Lester, and this was the only film of his I hadn’t been able to find. He made it not long after the most famous Beatles films he directed, and one of the players is John Lennon. Around the same time he made The Bed-Sitting Room, which is an absurdist film about the insanity of nuclear war. This is about the absurdity of all war. Michael Crawford (later to go on to Broadway singing fame as The Phantom of the Opera) is a raw, clueless lieutenant assigned to land in North Africa and construct a cricket pitch far behind enemy lines. His idiotic orders result in all his men getting killed, one by one.

Being as how this is absurdist, Lester employs a lot of gimmicks. When a soldier dies, he is immediately replaced by a man dressed all in the same color, with a colored stocking over his head. These ghosts don’t speak, but carry out orders impeccably. They are much better soldiers than the dead men. And sometimes we abruptly cut to the real war, and see the gruesome deaths of each soldier. Most of it works pretty well. It was a commercial failure, even with John Lennon’s name on the poster. I believe this movie was the inspiration for a verse in “A Day in the Life:”

I saw a film today oh boy
The English Army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book.