How I Won the War (1967) - Rotten Tomatoes

How I Won the War (1967)

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Among the first of the late 60s anti-war films that reflected growing concern over the Vietnam War, How I Won the War takes a cold, dark look at the Good War, World War II. In adapting Patrick Ryan's 1963 novel, screenwriter Charles Wood and director Richard Lester offered a narrative fractured by characters making side comments to the camera, stylized cinematography, inserts of newsreel war footage, and plenty of absurdist humor and slapstick. Ernest Goodbody (Michael Crawford) is a bumbling British officer who manages to get most of his small company of musketeers killed while on a mission in North Africa to set up a cricket pitch behind enemy lines for officers of the advancing British army. The rest of the company dies in an ensuing campaign in Europe near the war's end, but all of the men continue to march along, appearing as monochromatic ghosts. (Original prints of the film intercut real battle footage tinted to match the color of the soon-to-be ghost soldier. Some prints of the film, including one shown on Turner Classic Movies, present the newsreel shots in black and white, undercutting the stylized touch.) The story is framed as a flashback, with Goodbody relating his version of events to a German officer (Karl Michael Vogler), while the real version of events, demonstrating Goodbody's ineptitude, plays out on screen. Among the supporting players are John Lennon, who had worked with Lester on A Hard Day's Night and Help; Roy Kinnear, a Lester regular, as a fat soldier who is certain his wife is cheating on him; Jack MacGowran as the troop's designated fool, and Michael Hordern as a general almost as oblivious to his suffering men as Goodbody.

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Cast

Michael Crawford
as Lt. Goodbody
John Lennon
as Gripweed
Roy Kinnear
as Clapper
Lee Montague
as Transom
Jack Hedley
as Melancholy Musketeer
Alexander Knox
as American general
Robert Hardy
as British General
Sheila Hancock
as Mrs. Clapper's Friend
Charles Dyer
as Flappy-Trousered Man
Bill Dysart
as Paratrooper
Paul Daneman
as Skipper
Peter Graves
as Staff Officer
Richard Pearson
as Old Man at Alamein
Pauline Taylor
as Woman In Desert
John Ronane
as Operator
Norman Chappell
as Soldier at Alamein
Bryan Pringle
as Reporter
Fanny Carby
as Mrs. Clapper
Dandy Nichols
as Old Lady
John Junkin
as Large Child
Mick Dillon
as Replacement
Kenneth Colley
as Replacement
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Critic Reviews for How I Won the War

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (5)

Patrick Ryan's novel has been adapted into a screenplay which, as directed by Richard Lester, substitutes motion for emotion, reeling for feeling, and crude slapstick for telling satire.

September 10, 2007 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

Dated, maybe, but Lester's gruesomely black anti-war comedy still looks inventive, and manages occasionally to hit home with its blend of surreal lunacy and barbed satire.

February 9, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

I am afraid Mr. Lester has not added a single discouragement of war, but simply a little discouragement toward patronizing too-pretentious films.

May 9, 2005 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
New York Times
Top Critic

I got no impression from this film that Lester really, personally, cares very strongly one way or the other about war. It was only a currently fashionable subject, a good excuse to make a movie.

October 23, 2004 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Lester's op-pop style, jump cutting from incident to incident, seems too inherently cheerful for the material, which features fountains of stage blood.

January 1, 2000 | Full Review…
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A film so critical of others' attitudes should perhaps have given more positive vetting to its own.

April 11, 2016 | Full Review…
The Spectator

Audience Reviews for How I Won the War

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Nowhere is that more apparent than here in How I Won the War. The accents are so thick and the humor so uniquely British that even when I could understand it I couldn't understand it.

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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