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. —Tom Wiener
If any single director can encapsulate the popular image of Britain in the Swinging Sixties, then it is probably Richard Lester. With his use of flamboyant cinematic devices and liking for zany humour, he captured the vitality, and sometimes the triviality, of the period more vividly than any other director. This has been somewhat to the detriment of his later work which, whilst more conventional in style, has qualities which have been overshadowed by his fashionable earlier output.
Lester was born in Philadelphia, USA, on 19 January 1932. After graduating in clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, he began his career in American television as a stagehand, rising to become a director at just 20. He left for Europe in 1954, settling in Britain in 1956.
His sympathy for anarchic comedy made him an ideal director for the television series A Show Called Fred (ITV, 1956), where he worked with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He teamed up with them again for… read more
The 4K digital restoration has been completed entirely by hand, frame by frame.