[Quick Summary: A discharged marine gets a rousing, but undeserved, homecoming.]
Some call this Sturges' finest work, and I agree.
The script is remarkable because it fools you at first.
On a first read, I thought that Woodrow should not be the protagonist:
- Woodrow is very, very, very reluctant to go home. (He's an anti-hero.)
- But he's dragged home by marine buddies. (Does he have a goal?)
- He gets an undeserved hero's welcome. (Things happen to him.)
But I was wrong.
This script has an unusual and complex combination of an ANTI-HERO in a FARCE:
1 - As an anti-hero, Woodrow is very, very, very reluctant to take pro-active action. He seems to react rather than act.
ex. Woodrow befriends marines at a bar, far from home.
He wants to go home but can't. [Reluctance]
The marines learn he pretended to mom that he's still enlisted.
The marines insist he go home and accompany him. [Reacts]
2 - But look closely -- He does take steps toward a goal (telling mom).
However, he is swimming against a tsunami of farce.
Farce requires extreme exaggeration.
In other words, our attention is on the ridiculous town folk with agendas (antagonists) rather than Woodrow:
ex. Woodrow tries to bolt from the train. The marines shove him into uniform and medals.
ex. Woodrow's mother wants him to wear his (borrowed) uniform to church. He balks and wears a suit.
ex. Political hacks put Woodrow up for mayor. He tries to decline. They call him modest.
Note that all the action is ALWAYS around Woodrow, whether or not he is on screen (which is why he IS the protagonist.)
What great craftmanship!
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Farce can emphasize the protagonist's journey (even an anti-hero).
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
by Preston Sturges