Friday, March 15, 2002


Preston Sturges is very hit-and-miss with me. I've enjoyed some of the films he's directed and/or written (THE PALM BEACH STORY, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, REMEMBER THE NIGHT), but others have left me cold (MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, CHRISTMAS IN JULY, EASY LIVING). Part of it is due to my love/hate thing with screwball comedies. MIRACLE, which I'd heard so much about, was especially disappointing, but I enjoyed this one quite a bit; given the presence of Eddie Bracken, the military, a small town, and a wayward romance, this often feels like MIRACLE'S smarter brother.

Bracken plays a mild-mannered guy who, during WWII, tries to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the Marine Corps. He is discharged quickly due to chronic hay fever, but can't bring himself to return to his small town and be a disappointment his mother. One evening, he buys drinks for a group of broke Marines on furlough--they take pity on him and concoct a tall tale to tell his mother about his heroism. They decide to escort him home by train and when they arrive, all hell breaks loose. The whole town has turned out to "hail the conquering hero." From there, the situation snowballs until he is thrust into the position of running for mayor based solely on his supposed heroics. There's also an ex-girlfriend and her fiance (son of the current mayor) to contend with.

The movie is played at a screwball pace (though not quite as fast as MIRACLE), but the romance plot winds up being secondary to the rest. Bracken is great, as is William Demerest as the sergeant who does the most to get Bracken in deeper and deeper. Franklin Pangborn does a variation on his usual flustered and frustrated type. Raymond Walburn is very good as the mayor (although we're supposed to want Bracken to run against him and beat him, he really isn't seen as such a bad fellow) and Ella Raines is fine as the girlfriend. Lots of things get satrical jabs, including patriotism, romance, motherhood, politics, and small towns. From a current day standpoint, there's nothing too terribly subversive here, but considering it was released at the height of WWII, I'm amazed Sturges got away with so much. It does have a fairly traditional ending that salvages the idea of heroism and allows the town and Bracken to save face. Overall, quite enjoyable.

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