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Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero
Theatrical poster
Directed by Preston Sturges
Produced by Preston Sturges
Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited)
Written by Preston Sturges
Starring Eddie Bracken
Ella Raines
William Demarest
Music by Werner R. Heymann
Victor Young
Preston Sturges
Frank Loesser
Robert Emmett Dolan
Cinematography John F. Seitz
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
August 9, 1944
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) is a satirical comedy/drama written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines and William Demarest, and featuring Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Elizabeth Patterson and Bill Edwards.

Sturges was nominated for a 1945 Academy Award for his screenplay. Many critics consider the film to be one of Sturges' best.[1] It was the eighth film he made for Paramount Pictures, and also his last, although The Great Moment was released after it. Sturges later wrote about his departure "I guess Paramount was glad to be rid of me eventually, as no one there ever understood a word I said."[2]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Songs 3
  • Production 4
  • Awards and honors 5
  • Analysis 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (World War II while secretly working in a San Diego shipyard.

In a chance encounter in a bar he buys a round of drinks for six Marines back from the Battle of Guadalcanal headed by Master Gunnery Sergeant Heppelfinger (William Demarest). It transpires Heppelfinger had served with Woodrow's father in the 6th Marines in World War I. One of the Marines decides to telephone Woodrow's mother, telling her that he has received a medical discharge, so she will not have to worry about him. Woodrow is vehemently opposed to the fraud, but the Marines are all for it. Heppelfinger embellishes the charade by having Woodrow swap coats with one of the Marines that have the 1st Marine Division Battle Blaze and Pacific Theatre of Operations medals on it.

When they step off the train, the seemingly harmless deception has escalated beyond control; the entire town turns out to greet its homegrown hero. With an election coming up, the citizens decide to make an unwilling Woodrow their candidate against the pompous current mayor, Mr. Noble (Raymond Walburn). Complicating matters even further, Woodrow had written his girlfriend Libby (Ella Raines), telling her not to wait for him. She has since gotten engaged to Forrest Noble (Bill Edwards), the mayor's son.

Finally, Woodrow can stand it no longer. He confesses everything at a campaign rally and goes home to pack. Libby breaks her engagement and tells Woodrow she is going with him. Meanwhile, Heppelfinger praises Woodrow's courage in telling the truth to the stunned townsfolk, and after considering the matter, they decide that Woodrow has just the qualities they need in a mayor.


Cast notes:

  • This was the second and last time that Preston Sturges and Eddie Bracken worked together on a feature film. Their first was , Torben Meyer, Charles R. Moore, Frank Moran, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, Victor Potel, Dewey Robinson and Robert Warwick. This was also the second of three films that Raymond Walburn did with Sturges: he did Christmas In July and would go on to do The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.
  • This was the ninth of ten films written by Preston Sturges that William Demarest appeared in (see note).[3]
  • Hail the Conquering Hero was the first film made by ex-boxer Freddie Steele, "The Tacoma Assassin", but its release was held up for so long, seven other films that Steele appeared in had already reached the public by that time.[1][4]


Aside from songs associated with the military, such as "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" by Harry Carlton and Joe Tunbridge and "Halls of Montezuma", music by Jacques Offenbach, Hail the Conquering Hero contains two original songs by Preston Sturges:

  • "Home to the Arms of Mother" - music and lyrics by Preston Sturges, orchestral arrangement by Charles W. Bradshaw, vocal arrangements by Joseph J. Lilley
  • "We Want Woodrow" - music and lyrics by Preston Sturges, arranged by Charles W. Bradshaw

Other songs in the film include two written by Frank Loesser and Robert Emmett Dolan: "Have I Stayed Away Too Long" and "Gotta Go to Jailhouse".

The score also contains excerpts from "Hail the Conquering Hero" from [2]

There were also conflicts with the studio about this film: Paramount wanted actress Ella Raines, who was playing "Libby", to be replaced: not only did they feel she did not look like a small-town girl, but she did not have enough box-office draw, and with the other lead roles being taken by Bracken and Demarest, the studio was concerned that the film would not have enough star power to be effectively sold. But filming had already started, and Sturges refused to replace her.[1]

I said that had [producer] Buddy [DeSylva] 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.[2]

(Raines' career did not last long in any event: she retired in 1957.)[7]

It was customary at the time for the

External links

  1. ^ a b c d TCM Notes
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Frankel, Mark "Hail the Conquering Hero" (TCM article)
  3. ^ Demarest appeared in The Great Moment (1944)
  4. ^ Freddie Steele at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ IMDB Soundtracks
  6. ^ TCM Music
  7. ^ Ella Raines at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ TCM Overview
  9. ^ IMDB Release dates
  10. ^ Hail the Conquering Hero at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ TCM Misc. notes
  12. ^ Allmovie Awards
References The film can be seen as a look at both patriotism and hero worship in

One writer described Hail the Conquering Hero as "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," and Sturges himself said that of all his films, it was "the one with the least wrong with it." The film has the normal hallmarks of Sturges' best work: an extremely fast pace, overlapping dialogue, and rapid-fire punch lines. Monty Python's Terry Jones called it "like a wonderful piece of clockwork."[2]


Sturges was nominated for a 1945 National Board of Review as "Best Picture of 1944", and Eddie Bracken and Franklin Pangborn won "Best Acting" awards from the Board. The New York Times named the film one of the "Ten Best Films of 1944".[12]

Awards and honors

Hail the Conquering Hero was released on video on 15 November 1990, on laserdisc on 26 October 1994, and was re-released on video on 30 June 1993.[11] It was released on DVD (as part of a seven disc set entitled "Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection") on November 21, 2006.

Reviews were uniformly excellent, with Bosley Crowther writing in the New York Times that it was "one of the wisest [movies] ever to burst from a big-time studio." Sturges exulted that, "It proves that a good story can lick its weight in stars and pomposity any day."[2]

The film was released on 9 August 1944.[9] Sharp-eyed viewers may have noted that in the scene where the Marines leave the Oakdale station, a billboard behind them advertises The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, the film that Sturges made, also starring Eddie Bracken, immediately before this one.[10]

[8][2][1] – DeSylva accepted Sturges' offer to return, unpaid, and rewrite the script. Retakes, directed by Sturges, were done on the 7th through 11 April 1944, and Sturges restored his overall conception of the film.[2] After an unsuccessful preview in

[2] Although

Hail the Conquering Hero had a number of working titles on its way to the screen. An early title was "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition", and "Once Upon a Hero" and "The Little Marine" were also used.



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