Hail the Conquering Hero


1h 41m 1944
Hail the Conquering Hero

Brief Synopsis

A group of veterans help a small-town fraud convince his family he was a war hero.

Film Details

Also Known As
Once Upon a Hero, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, The Little Marine
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Aug 9, 1944
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,050ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

Woodrow LaFayette Pershing Truesmith sits disconsolately at a bar with his beer. When six Marines, led by Sgt. Julius Heffelfinger, come in, Woodrow buys them all beer because they are short on cash, and the grateful Marines, recently returned from the battle at Guadalcanal, introduce themselves. The soldiers learn that Woodrow's father, also a Marine, died a hero in World War I on the same day that Woodrow was born, and that Woodrow's lifelong dream is to follow in his father's footsteps. Humiliated by his dismissal due to chronic hayfever which occurred over a year before, Woodrow reveals that he wrote to his mother that he was sent overseas, and has not been home since. "Sarge" recalls that Woodrow's father was his own sergeant during World War I, and that he was present the day Truesmith died on the battlefield. Bugsy Walewski, a tough but compassionate Marine who believes that mothers are sacred, is appalled that Woodrow would allow his mother to think that he is in combat, and immediately telephones Woodrow's mother in Oakridge, California. Bugsy impersonates an officer and informs her that Woodrow is a hero and is returning home from Guadalcanal. Led by Sarge, the Marines then escort Woodrow to a train headed for California, and force him to wear his uniform, even though he believes it is against regulations. They then insist on giving him several of their own medals, believing that he will be able to slip quietly into town, impress his mother, and then discard the uniform. Woodrow is mortified when the entire town and four marching bands greet him at the Oakridge train station, and the mayor gives him the key to the city. Woodrow immediately regrets his deception, but the Marines continue to hail him as a hero. Woodrow's former girl friend Libby, whom he had written and told not to wait for him, is now engaged to Forrest Noble, scion of the wealthiest family in town, but is waiting for an appropriate time to tell Woodrow the news. That night, the town's elder citizens, led by Judge Dennis and mayoral candidate Doc Bissell, nominate a stunned Woodrow for mayor. Without actually revealing his deception, Woodrow proclaims his unworthiness, but the supportive crowd that has gathered outside his house thinks that he is only being humble. Forrest's father, a mayoral candidate himself, fires Libby as his secretary after she defends Woodrow in the face of his own character defamation. As Woodrow's campaign supporters celebrate with fervor, Woodrow drinks cooking wine and contemplates his ruin. Libby finally confesses her impending marriage to Forrest, and Woodrow calmly accepts the news as he fears she might be hurt when the truth about him comes out. Woodrow insists he is a phony, but Libby is brokenhearted that he will not fight for her. Noble's political boss, meanwhile, becomes suspicious of Woodrow and cables the Marines for verification of his status. The next morning, in order to avoid the campaign, Woodrow pretends that he has been called back into active service. Bugsy sees through his ruse and loses respect for Woodrow. Woodrow participates in the campaign parade that leads him to the town hall, where Noble and his boss are eager to spread the news of Woodrow's medical discharge. Woodrow unexpectedly confesses to the fraud in an eloquent speech, however, and Bugsy's faith in him is restored. Woodrow then returns home to pack, and Libby, realizing that Woodrow is truly courageous because of his ability to face the truth, breaks off her engagement with Forrest and insists on joining Woodrow in his travels. While they are waiting at the train station, a mob led by Sarge approaches. Afraid of a lynching, the Marines protect Woodrow, but Judge Dennis and Doc Bissell announce that after careful consideration, they still want Woodrow to run for mayor because of his courage and veracity. Noble faints when he hears the news, and after accepting the nomination, Woodrow bids farewell to his devoted Marine friends.

Crew

A. M. Asher

Boom Operator

William Austin

Grip

Richard Blaydon

Bus Manager

Charles W. Bradshaw

Composer

Lew Brown

Wardrobe

Teet Carle

Pub

Thelma Courtmarsh

Wardrobe

Howard Davis

Assistant bus Manager

B. G. Desylva

Executive Producer

Robert Emmett Dolan

Composer

Haldane Douglas

Art Director

Hans Dreier

Art Director

Harve Foster

Assistant Director

Stuart Gilmore

Editing

Evelyn Glatt

Assistant set dresser

Ray Guy

Electrician

Duffy Hamener

Rec, retakes

Edith Head

Costumes

Joe Herrington

Wardrobe

Werner Heymann

Music Score

Warren Hoag

Electrician

Jack Hoffman

Stills

Dick Johnson

Makeup

La Prele Jones

Screenplay clerk

Howard Joslin

2d Assistant Director, retakes

Joe Keller

Props

Sigmund Krumgold

Music Director

Ernst Laemmle

Assistant to prod

Oscar Lau

Props

Eugene Liggett

Assistant Camera, retakes

Joseph J. Lilley

Composer

Frank Loesser

Composer

John Macneil

Assistant set dresser

Robert Mayo

Casting

Walter Mcleod

Grip

Gene Merritt

Mixer, retakes

Emie Moore

Wardrobe

Frank Moran

Technical Advisor

John Robert Murphy

2d Assistant Director

Wallace Nogle

Sound Recording

Ed O'toole

Stills, retakes

Walter Oberst

Sound Recording

Webb Overlander

Makeup

Otto Pierce

2nd Camera

Bill Rand

2d Camera, retakes

Gertrude Reade

Hair

John F. Seitz

Director of Photography

Stephen Seymour

Set Decoration

Theodor Sparkuhl

Camera, retakes

Chet Stafford

Gaffer

Harlow Stengel

Assistant Camera

Preston Sturges

Writer

Preston Sturges

Composer

Preston Sturges

Producer

Walter Taylor

Gaffer

Walter Tyler

Art Director, retakes

A. H. Van Koughnet

Recording

Wally Westmore

Makeup Artist

Videos

Movie Clip

Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) - He Could Be President Woodrow (Eddie Bracken), overwhelmed and intending to confess that he never served in the Marine Corps, can’t stop the judge (Jimmy Conlin) and Doc Bissell (Harry Hayden), who have nominated him for mayor on his homecoming, in Preston Sturges’ Hail The Conquering Hero, 1944.
Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) - Chronic Hay Fever In a single take by writer-director Preston Sturges, Woodrow (Eddie Bracken) tells his life story to Heffelfinger (William Demarest) and the Marines (Freddie Steele, Jimmy Dundee, James Lamore et al) in Hail The Conquering Hero, 1944.
Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) - Home To The Arms Of Mother Seamless opening scene from writer-director Preston Sturges, introducing Woodrow (Eddie Bracken) crying in his beer, and Marines led by Heffelfinger (William Demarest), in Hail The Conquering Hero, 1944.
Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) - A Single Sour Note Franklin Pangborn (the band leader), the mother (Georgia Caine) and ex-sweetheart Libby (Ella Raines) among the revelers awaiting the local war hero, unaware that he hasn't told them he was forced to accept a medical discharge and never served, early in Preston Sturges' Hail The Conquering Hero, 1944.
Hail The Conquering Hero (1944) - He's Got Jungle Fever Craziness at the homecoming for Woodrow (Eddie Bracken), pressed by Sarge (William Demarest), who served with his father, not to tell his mother (Georgia Caine) he was rejected by the Marines, Torben Meyer the neighbor, Ella Raines his ex-girl, who hasn't told him she's engaged, in Preston Sturges' Hail The Conquering Hero, 1944.

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Also Known As
Once Upon a Hero, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, The Little Marine
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Aug 9, 1944
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,050ft (11 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1945
Preston Sturges

Articles

Hail the Conquering Hero


Preston Sturges' eighth and final film for Paramount, Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) is a satire on mindless hero-worship, small-town politicians, and something we might call "Mom-ism," the almost idolatrous reverence that Americans have for the institution of Motherhood. Of all his films, Sturges called Hail the Conquering Hero "the one with the least wrong with it," which says a lot considering its competition. But high praise is indeed merited, for it is in this film that Sturges most adeptly handles his customary alteration of comedic and sentimental scenes.

Hail the Conquering Hero was small in scale and Sturges designed it so that it could be filmed on the sets left over from The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), released the same year. Sturges had been so impressed with Eddie Bracken's work in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, that he cast him in a similar role for Hail the Conquering Hero. This time, however, Bracken would not have to share the stage (and be upstaged) by his frequent co-star, Betty Hutton. Bracken plays Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, the sickly son of a Marine hero whose image Bracken could never hope to live up to (Bracken's mother keeps a shrine to her husband prominently displayed in her home). When he is dismissed from the service due to his chronic hay fever, Bracken is so ashamed that he decides not to return home. Instead he gets a job in a shipyard and has friends send his mother and girlfriend letters from the Pacific so they will think he is still away fighting. When he meets some real war heroes, just back from Guadalcanal, Bracken mistakenly tells them his whole sad story. Unfortunately, one of the Marines, Bugsy (brilliantly played by Freddie Steele), is the victim of both shell shock and a mother complex. Bugsy's refrain throughout the picture is, "You shouldn't do that to your mother." And so to set things right by Mom, Bugsy calls Mrs. Truesmith (Georgia Caine), and tells her that her son is a war hero and will soon be home. Woodrow's hay fever becomes jungle fever and soon he is stuck playing a hero.

As was customary with such a picture, the War Department reviewed the script and asked for some revisions, mostly pertaining to depictions of servicemen. But Sturges' script was far from seditious and the revisions he was forced to make were minor. Even with such a review, Sturges managed to make fun of the ease with which military heroes were made. As the Mayor comments: "Why if this war continues, you won't be able to swing a cat without hitting two heroes." Like all of Sturges' films, Hail the Conquering Hero is maniacally fast-paced with overlapping dialogue and punch-lines that come so fast you'll miss one if you laugh too hard. According to Monty Python member and director, Terry Jones: "There's not a dud scene or a spare moment. It's like a wonderful piece of clockwork - all the scene has been set, the back stories told, the characters established while Woodrow is on the train home. Once he steps off it, the rapid series of events toboggan towards their climax with wondrous momentum."

As usual, Sturges employs his unofficial troupe of oddball character actors, most notably William Demarest, Jimmy Conlin, Chester Conklin and Raymond Walburn. Demarest appeared in all eight of Sturges' Paramount films, and in each, his bug-eyed irascible character was a standout. But Sturges' reliance on bit players brought him into repeated conflict with the studio, which asked him to hire some new talent. "I always replied that these little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures. I guess Paramount was glad to be rid of me eventually, as no one there ever understood a word I said."

Sturges' break with Paramount was, in part, the result of the writer-director's continual conflict with Paramount boss Buddy DeSylva. According to Sturges, the final battle began when DeSylva saw some early rushes of Hail the Conquering Hero and objected to the casting of newcomer Ella Raines as Bracken's love interest. DeSylva thought that Raines didn't look enough like a small-time girl and that her acting was wooden. In addition, Raines was not enough of a box-office draw. With a cast of Bracken, Demarest and Raines, the studio had no star power with which to sell the film. The only draw was that Sturges made it, and despite his recent string of hits, Sturges was no Cecil B. DeMille, Paramount's top director whose name alone could bring patrons to the theaters. DeSylva demanded that Sturges replace Raines with a better-known actress, but Sturges refused. As Sturges recalls: "I said that had Buddy been there and objected to her casting at its inception, I would of course have agreed. But to have her thrown off the picture after she had been announced for the part and had started shooting, with all the publicity that engendered, would ruin her career. It seems very unimportant now whether she was kept in or thrown out. It seemed very important then. I had read Cervantes. I should have known about tilting at windmills." (That same year saw Raines in memorable roles in both the Robert Siodmak thriller Phantom Lady [1944] and opposite John Wayne in Tall in the Saddle [1944], but her film career proved short-lived and she retired in 1957.)

Sturges' contract with Paramount was over before the film was completely edited but Sturges took his leave and monitored the film's progress from afar. DeSylva made his own cuts to the picture, but after The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was released in January and became a box-office smash, DeSylva reluctantly accepted Sturges' offer to come back to Paramount (without pay!) and once again take charge. He reshot some additional scenes, wrote a new ending and restored the film to its original state. DeSylva let Sturges' efforts stand and Hail the Conquering Hero was released in August of 1944 to uniformly excellent reviews. In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther declared the movie to be "one of the wisest ever to burst from a big-time studio." Sturges was pleasantly surprised by the reviews and wrote that, "It proves that a good story can lick its weight in stars and pomposity any day."

Sturges was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, which put him in competition with himself as his script for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was also nominated in the same category. In the event, neither of Sturges' efforts was rewarded and the statue went home with Lamar Trotti for his biopic, Wilson (1944). Sturges also wrote an ironic song for the film, "Home to the Arms of Mother," which he sold to Paramount for one dollar.

Bracken gives the performance of his career as Woodrow and his relationship with Sturges was so good that it seems the director even allowed Bracken to make some directorial suggestions. According to Bracken, the speech where Woodrow finally confesses the charade was originally intended by Sturges to be faster than what appears in the film. "You know, his pictures go snap, snap, snap, as fast as you can follow them. That's the way he thought a particular speech should go, too. But I thought it was too good a speech for that. It should be slow and tender with time to get it over. So we shot it both ways, his and mine. It's mine that's in the picture."

Producer/Director/Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Stuart Gilmore
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Art Direction: Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier
Cast: Eddie Bracken (Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith), Ella Raines (Libby), Raymond Walburn (Mayor Everett D. Noble), William Demarest (Sergeant Heppelfinger), Franklin Pangborn (Committee Chairman), Elizabeth Patterson (Libby's Aunt), Jimmy Conlin (Judge Dennis), Georgia Caine (Mrs. Truesmith), Freddie Steele (Bugsy).
BW-101m.

By Mark Frankel
Hail The Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero

Preston Sturges' eighth and final film for Paramount, Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) is a satire on mindless hero-worship, small-town politicians, and something we might call "Mom-ism," the almost idolatrous reverence that Americans have for the institution of Motherhood. Of all his films, Sturges called Hail the Conquering Hero "the one with the least wrong with it," which says a lot considering its competition. But high praise is indeed merited, for it is in this film that Sturges most adeptly handles his customary alteration of comedic and sentimental scenes. Hail the Conquering Hero was small in scale and Sturges designed it so that it could be filmed on the sets left over from The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), released the same year. Sturges had been so impressed with Eddie Bracken's work in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, that he cast him in a similar role for Hail the Conquering Hero. This time, however, Bracken would not have to share the stage (and be upstaged) by his frequent co-star, Betty Hutton. Bracken plays Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, the sickly son of a Marine hero whose image Bracken could never hope to live up to (Bracken's mother keeps a shrine to her husband prominently displayed in her home). When he is dismissed from the service due to his chronic hay fever, Bracken is so ashamed that he decides not to return home. Instead he gets a job in a shipyard and has friends send his mother and girlfriend letters from the Pacific so they will think he is still away fighting. When he meets some real war heroes, just back from Guadalcanal, Bracken mistakenly tells them his whole sad story. Unfortunately, one of the Marines, Bugsy (brilliantly played by Freddie Steele), is the victim of both shell shock and a mother complex. Bugsy's refrain throughout the picture is, "You shouldn't do that to your mother." And so to set things right by Mom, Bugsy calls Mrs. Truesmith (Georgia Caine), and tells her that her son is a war hero and will soon be home. Woodrow's hay fever becomes jungle fever and soon he is stuck playing a hero. As was customary with such a picture, the War Department reviewed the script and asked for some revisions, mostly pertaining to depictions of servicemen. But Sturges' script was far from seditious and the revisions he was forced to make were minor. Even with such a review, Sturges managed to make fun of the ease with which military heroes were made. As the Mayor comments: "Why if this war continues, you won't be able to swing a cat without hitting two heroes." Like all of Sturges' films, Hail the Conquering Hero is maniacally fast-paced with overlapping dialogue and punch-lines that come so fast you'll miss one if you laugh too hard. According to Monty Python member and director, Terry Jones: "There's not a dud scene or a spare moment. It's like a wonderful piece of clockwork - all the scene has been set, the back stories told, the characters established while Woodrow is on the train home. Once he steps off it, the rapid series of events toboggan towards their climax with wondrous momentum." As usual, Sturges employs his unofficial troupe of oddball character actors, most notably William Demarest, Jimmy Conlin, Chester Conklin and Raymond Walburn. Demarest appeared in all eight of Sturges' Paramount films, and in each, his bug-eyed irascible character was a standout. But Sturges' reliance on bit players brought him into repeated conflict with the studio, which asked him to hire some new talent. "I always replied that these little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures. I guess Paramount was glad to be rid of me eventually, as no one there ever understood a word I said." Sturges' break with Paramount was, in part, the result of the writer-director's continual conflict with Paramount boss Buddy DeSylva. According to Sturges, the final battle began when DeSylva saw some early rushes of Hail the Conquering Hero and objected to the casting of newcomer Ella Raines as Bracken's love interest. DeSylva thought that Raines didn't look enough like a small-time girl and that her acting was wooden. In addition, Raines was not enough of a box-office draw. With a cast of Bracken, Demarest and Raines, the studio had no star power with which to sell the film. The only draw was that Sturges made it, and despite his recent string of hits, Sturges was no Cecil B. DeMille, Paramount's top director whose name alone could bring patrons to the theaters. DeSylva demanded that Sturges replace Raines with a better-known actress, but Sturges refused. As Sturges recalls: "I said that had Buddy been there and objected to her casting at its inception, I would of course have agreed. But to have her thrown off the picture after she had been announced for the part and had started shooting, with all the publicity that engendered, would ruin her career. It seems very unimportant now whether she was kept in or thrown out. It seemed very important then. I had read Cervantes. I should have known about tilting at windmills." (That same year saw Raines in memorable roles in both the Robert Siodmak thriller Phantom Lady [1944] and opposite John Wayne in Tall in the Saddle [1944], but her film career proved short-lived and she retired in 1957.) Sturges' contract with Paramount was over before the film was completely edited but Sturges took his leave and monitored the film's progress from afar. DeSylva made his own cuts to the picture, but after The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was released in January and became a box-office smash, DeSylva reluctantly accepted Sturges' offer to come back to Paramount (without pay!) and once again take charge. He reshot some additional scenes, wrote a new ending and restored the film to its original state. DeSylva let Sturges' efforts stand and Hail the Conquering Hero was released in August of 1944 to uniformly excellent reviews. In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther declared the movie to be "one of the wisest ever to burst from a big-time studio." Sturges was pleasantly surprised by the reviews and wrote that, "It proves that a good story can lick its weight in stars and pomposity any day." Sturges was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, which put him in competition with himself as his script for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was also nominated in the same category. In the event, neither of Sturges' efforts was rewarded and the statue went home with Lamar Trotti for his biopic, Wilson (1944). Sturges also wrote an ironic song for the film, "Home to the Arms of Mother," which he sold to Paramount for one dollar. Bracken gives the performance of his career as Woodrow and his relationship with Sturges was so good that it seems the director even allowed Bracken to make some directorial suggestions. According to Bracken, the speech where Woodrow finally confesses the charade was originally intended by Sturges to be faster than what appears in the film. "You know, his pictures go snap, snap, snap, as fast as you can follow them. That's the way he thought a particular speech should go, too. But I thought it was too good a speech for that. It should be slow and tender with time to get it over. So we shot it both ways, his and mine. It's mine that's in the picture." Producer/Director/Screenplay: Preston Sturges Cinematography: John F. Seitz Editing: Stuart Gilmore Music: Werner R. Heymann Art Direction: Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier Cast: Eddie Bracken (Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith), Ella Raines (Libby), Raymond Walburn (Mayor Everett D. Noble), William Demarest (Sergeant Heppelfinger), Franklin Pangborn (Committee Chairman), Elizabeth Patterson (Libby's Aunt), Jimmy Conlin (Judge Dennis), Georgia Caine (Mrs. Truesmith), Freddie Steele (Bugsy). BW-101m. By Mark Frankel

Quotes

Oh death where is thy sting?
- Committee Chairman
I thought the Marines could do anything, but I had no idea they could do anything like this.
- Woodrow
Kid, you got no idea!
- Marine
She forgets her lines 'til rigor mortis sets in!
- Mayor Noble
These flapjacks might taste better with a little butter on 'em Mrs. T.
- Sergeant Heppelfinger
Maybe you haven't heard Sgt. but there's a war on.
- Mrs. Truesmith

Trivia

Notes

Preston Sturges' onscreen credit reads: "Written and directed by Preston Sturges." The working titles of this film were Once Upon a Hero and The Little Marine. According to information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, an early, tentative title for the production was Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. (Although The Human Strongbox was announced first in 1943 as a Preston Sturges-directed Eddie Bracken picture for Paramount, it bears no relation to this film, and was later announced as a title for a 1946 Harold Lloyd picture that was never made.) Modern sources and Preston Sturges' autobiography note that at the time he made Hail the Conquering Hero, Sturges was embroiled in a conflict with Paramount. Paramount executives wanted to replace actress Ella Raines in the film, but Sturges refused to comply as shooting had already begun. Due to additional conflicts with Paramount, including editorial control and censorship problems with his previous two pictures, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and The Great Moment, Sturges left the studio upon completion of this film. (Although The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and The Great Moment were produced before Hail the Conquering Hero, they were released after it.) According to modern sources, as Sturges had already left the studio, producer B. G. DeSylva had this film re-cut without him after an unsuccessful preview in New York. However, after yet another unsuccessful preview, Sturges returned and rewrote and reshot the ending in April 1944.
       This film marks ex-boxer Freddie Steele and Stephen Gregory's feature film debuts. Sturges was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1944 for Best Original Screenplay for this film, and for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Many modern critics consider Hail the Conquering Hero as Sturges' best film.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1944

Released in United States 1974

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1990

Re-released in United States on Video June 30, 1993

Released in USA on laserdisc October 26, 1994.

Released in United States 1944

Released in United States 1974 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Preston Sturges Movie Marathon) March 28 - April 9, 1974)

Re-released in United States on Video June 30, 1993

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1990