John Lennon’s Appearances in How I Won the War, the Absurdist 1967 Film

After see­ing it men­tioned in Mon­day’s post on the “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” demos, any curi­ous afi­ciona­do of Bea­t­les-relat­ed ephemera will want to know more about Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, in which John Lennon made his only non-musi­cal act­ing appear­ance. The trail­er above gives you an idea of the sen­si­bil­i­ty of the film, whose desert shoot in Spain allowed Lennon the time and got him into the head­space to con­ceive of that beloved song. Ever shift­ing between tones, gen­res, and looks, the movie fol­lows the attempt of the British Army’s “3rd Troop, the 4th Mus­ke­teers” to build a crick­et pitch behind ene­my lines in WW II Tunisia. In the small part of Mus­ke­teer Grip­weed, Lester cast the 26-year-old, bespec­ta­cled Lennon. The two had already estab­lished a work­ing rela­tion­ship, with Lester hav­ing direct­ed all of the Fab Four in their musi­cal films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

An enter­pris­ing fan assem­bled the video just above by string­ing togeth­er all of Lennon’s scenes, which come to just under eight min­utes out of the full film’s 109. Watch­ing all these gags decon­tex­tu­al­ized adds a lay­er of absur­di­ty, and How I Won the War’s humor is pret­ty absurd to begin with. You’d per­haps do best to approach the movie as an absur­dist black com­e­dy that both uses and par­o­dies count­less tra­di­tions in British film.

Not that it worked for a 25-year-old Roger Ebert, who waxed sar­cas­tic at the time about the bal­ly­hoo­ing of Lennon’s eight min­utes: “By now we have seen John Lennon’s bloody pic­ture on the cov­er of Ram­parts, and read the adver­tise­ments in which crit­ics are pound­ed over the head with each oth­er’s reviews, and we know this a film the old fogeys and fas­cist baby-eaters will hate and the young, pure, enlight­ened lib­er­als will find Truth in.” Brave and hilar­i­ous anti-war state­ment fea­tur­ing a colos­sal cul­tur­al fig­ure, or non­sen­si­cal piece of slap­stick that hap­pens to include a Bea­t­le? Copies of How I Won the War can be pur­chased on DVD.

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the Dick Cavett Show

John Lennon and The Rolling Stones Sing Bud­dy Hol­ly

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Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • John wrote “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” while he was in Spain film­ing this movie.I have nev­er seen the movie but I will view the clip.I know he played Pri­vate Grip­weed in this movie.

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