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.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the Dick Cavett Show
John Lennon and The Rolling Stones Sing Buddy Holly
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
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.