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John Lennon & Richard Lester Behind the Scenes of How I Won the War


How I Won the War is a black comedy film directed by Richard Lester, released in 1967. The film stars Michael Crawford as bungling British Army Officer Lieutenant Earnest Goodbody, with John Lennon...
How I Won the War is a black comedy film directed by Richard Lester, released in 1967. The film stars Michael Crawford as bungling British Army Officer Lieutenant Earnest Goodbody, with John Lennon (Musketeer Gripweed), Jack MacGowran (Musketeer Juniper) Roy Kinnear (Musketeer Clapper) and Lee Montague (Sergeant Transom) as soldiers under his command. The film uses an inconsistent variety of styles — vignette, straighttocamera, and, extensively, parody of the war film genre, docu-drama, and popular war literature — to tell the story of 3rd Troop, the 4th Musketeers (a fictional regiment reminiscent of the Royal Fusiliers) and their misadventures in the Second World War. This is told in the comic/absurdist vein throughout, a central plot being the setting-up of an Advanced Area Cricket Pitch behind enemy lines in Tunisia, but it is all broadly based on the landings in North Africa in 1942 to the advance on the Rhine following Arnhem.

How I Won The War has never been critically well received, but its status as a curiosity — if only as John Lennons only nonBeatles film role — seems assured. Its collation of images and tableaux is darker and less structured than its anti-war contemporary Oh! What a Lovely War, the drama is not as terrifyingly unhinged as the later Catch-22, and it does not come across with the humane compassion of MASH. Though there are some memorable exchanges between characters, and fragments of battle scenes that carry a strangely disturbing ring of truth, the script is very largely composed of intentional nonsequiturs, mostly based on British Army slang, and this along with the ongoing barrage of textbook Brechtian estrangement techniques makes it perennially difficult to know what the film is aiming to do. Lester himself, acknowledging this, argued that most "anti-war" films still treat war in a rational manner, while he tried to disassemble it to the pure perversion of everything human he found it to be.

Continuing on the absurdist tone established in Help! and considering this film an artistic success, United Artists gave Richard Lester free rein to create his next film, the nuclear war satire The Bed-Sitting Room. The three films accidentally constitute a trilogy that has developed a cult audience since their initial releases between 1965-70.

The film was made on location in Spain in the autumn of 1966. It has been said "Strawberry Fields Forever" was written by Lennon on the set. The film's release was delayed by 6 months as Richard Lester went on to work on Petulia (1968), shortly after completing How I Won The War.

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