The just-released Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray of the 1967 Richard Lester film “How I Won the War” with John Lennon as Musketeer Gripweed is probably the best reason yet to own the movie, assuming, of course, you want to. The Blu-ray of this unusual anti-war film looks sharper than the old MGM “Limited Edition” regular DVD and is pressed on silver discs, as opposed to MGM’s DVD-R’s. But the MGM version has subtitles, which the Blu-ray strangely omits.
The film itself is a strange mix of Monty Python and “A Hard Day’s Night” and it almost seems like what would have life been like had the late Victor Spinetti’s army sergeant from “Magical Mystery Tour” ran a war. If it wasn’t for the fact that John Lennon was in the film, it certainly wouldn’t have gotten the attention it has. It’s actually inaccurate to call Lennon the star of the movie. He’s a supporting actor which takes some getting used to, but he does have some good moments, though, like the “May I rub your balls, sir?” line (referring to cricket) early on.
While the Blu-ray is great in the picture department, it falls down in the bonus features, which has several trailers of other Richard Lester movies, though none of his Beatles ones, and no commentary, which this movie cries for. The MGM version has only the single trailer for “How I Won the War,” so there is no commentary on either version, a big mistake.
Several actors with Beatles connections are seen in the film. One of Gripweed’s fellow soldiers is Roy Kinnear, who played Algernon, the sidekick of mad scientist Foot played by Victor Spinetti in “Help!” John Junkin, who played Shake in “A Hard Day’s Night,” plays the role of “Large Child.” Dandy Nichols and Gretchen Franklin, the two sweet elderly neighbors who had the lines at the beginning of “Help!”, “Lovely lads and so natural. Success hasn’t gone to their heads. And still the same was they was before they was,” are reunited together in a cameo appearance as two moviegoers. Finally, Neil Aspinall has an uncredited role as “Death Soldier.”
“How I Won the War” is a comedy of the absurd. The gags fly fast and furious, much like in Lester’s Beatles films. One thing to note is that the movie is loaded with many more British in-jokes than the Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night.” Michael Crawford before his “Phantom of the Opera” fame plays Lt. Goodbody, whose memoirs make up the title and the movie. But opinions on the film are sharply divided. Some people love it, others don’t. However, Lennon does do a standout acting job in his role of a stereotypical British soldier in this crazy and disjointed story. It’s still not a film you can watch easily, but its purpose is a message about the absurdity of war. It was also one of the early reality checks of a solo Beatles career since it showed early on that when the Moptops went their separate ways they wouldn’t always be predictable. And “How I Won the War” is anything but.