Under the Radar

How I Won the War

What are we supposed to make of How I Won the War? Newly reissued on DVD with a fancy picture book, the movie is best known as John Lennon's only non-Beatles acting role and the source of the famous photo that graced the cover of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine. 

The movie itself hasn't been seen much since its 1967. Directed by Richard Lester (who had previously directed the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night and Help! and went on to direct Superman II and Superman III), How I Won the War could be lauded as an irreverent World War II satire that paved the way for the 1970 release of Robert Altman's MASH and Mike Nichols' film of Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

You could do that, but you'd have to ignore how incoherent the plot is and how incomprehensible most of the dialog will be to non-British audiences (something noted by Roger Ebert's original review back in the day). There's not much social commentary on war here and the way the film mixes low-budget shots from the Spanish desert with actual newsreel footage from the war doesn't do much to clear up the confusion.

Still, John Lennon seems to be having a good time here and anything with the great British character actor Roy Kinnear is never a complete waste of time. The DVD is part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection, a manufacture-on-demand program that makes available a large number of titles that would never get a regular release. The downside is there isn't much in the way of DVD extras (even though there are subtitles to help clear up the dialog issues). The book is full of John Lennon photos I've never seen before, so it might make a good gift for the Beatles collector who seems to have everything.

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