There won't be much longer to wait. The West End premiere of "How I Won The War" is scheduled to take place a month or two from now.
Before I tell you something about the story we ought to clear up a couple of points. First of all DON'T go to see this film expecting to find John in the lead role. John's part--as Private Gripweed of the Third Troop of the Fourth Musketeers--is not a large one. It is small yet important. And DON'T expect "How I Won The War" to be an all-laughter picture. There are loads of laugh lines, lots of hilarious sequences, BUT your smiles may turn to tears in the more serious sequences. Basically this is an anti-war film and to make its message all the more profound you'll see a fair amount of spilled blood. Some scenes showing the death of Fourth Musketeer soldiers are quite gruesome. You'll watch men stabbed through the stomach with bayonets, blown to pieces by shells, damaged beyond repair by bombs and bullets. But balanced against the tragedy you'll get an ample helping of humour--from slapstick farce to pungent satire with subtle jokes set out alongside physical clowning.
ColourThe main role in this Eastmancolor production, directed by Richard Lester who worked with The Beatles on "Help!" and "A Hard Day's Night", goes to actor Michael Crawford who plays a British army officer named Lieutenant Ernest Goodbody. Goodbody leads his platoon through a series of Second World War battles and special missions set in the Western Desert, Dunkirk, Dieppe, Alamein and Arnhem.
Integrated with each of the battle sequences are actual newsreel shots which were filmed 25 years ago. These sequences are shown not in full colours but a series of deep colour tints--green to identify the Dunkirk fighting, pink for the Dieppe shots, orange for the Alamein campaign and blue for Arnhem. You can imagine the curiously powerful impact of these scenes with the whole screen bathed in a blue or pink.
True to the dreadful facts of war at least one member of Goodbody's platoon is killed in each of these actions. But when a man dies his place is taken by a new faceless soldier whose skin and clothing is tinted from head to foot in the colour used to identify the battle which has just taken place. Are these green and blue people meant to be the ghosts of those who have died or are they unknown new soldiers sent in as replacements? We're never given an answer.
By now you will have realised that this is no ordinary comedy film and no conventional war picture. By the ingenious use of cameras, colour and brilliant directing techniques the whole production puts over the futility of fighting, the nonsense of war.
Apart from John's Private Gripweed you'll meet amongst the other Fourth Musketeers troop members Clapper, Dooley, Drogue and Transom. Clapper is played by Roy Kinnear. At first you'll meet them while they're doing their basic military training--square-bashing on a parade ground, learning their rifle drill. There are riotous moments as you see them negotiating a tricky obstacle course which includes leaping over walls and dangling from high-slung ropes above ponds of muddy water.
Later, in the North African desert, you'll see John learning to drive a truck and a sort of tank. His driving lessons take place prior to a "vital assignment" given to Lieutenant Goodbody's squad--to infiltrate enemy lines, press on far beyond the battlefront and establish a cricket field (yes, a CRICKET FIELD!) for inspection by a senior officer of the British Army. The mission is successful despite Private Gripweed's blunder in letting the platoon's precious water supply (stored in the giant roller used to iron out the cricket pitch!) leak away into the sand.
It would not be fair of me to tell you more about the actual story. You must see for yourself how the war is won and by whom. But I will tell you that this is to be one of the most powerful and moving pictures you've ever seen. It will leave you with hosts of memories--happy and sad--and it will be an experience you'll never regret.
Filmed Last Year"How I Won The War" was filmed during the autumn of 1966. Indeed John left for the first shooting location in Germany within hours of The Beatles' return from their summer concert tour of America. From Germany the production unit moved to Almeria, a remote spot on the coast of Spain where John and Cynthia set up their temporary home with little Julian in the spacious and beautiful old mansion where John celebrated his 26th birthday last October.
"I'm still not sure about acting" said John when the whole thing was over "I couldn't imagine myself making film after film but I've learnt a lot from it and it was good experience. I've tried a bit of writing and now I've tried a bit of acting. I'll never be able to take either of these things much further but I'm glad I've done them."
How did John Lennon happen to become Private Gripweed?
John Was RightFrom director Richard Lester: "When I read the first outline of the story I kept thinking of John for this character. I found that Charles Wood--the man who gave me the first treatments of the story to look at--was thinking the same way although we hadn't discussed the casting. So we wrote the part specially for John. As an actor John has a natural instinct for comedy and his timing is excellent."
And from John: "I did the film because I believed in it. There never has been a war film which showed war as it really is. A man fighting in a battle doesn't see the whole thing. He never meets the enemy until the day a man comes round the corner and sticks a bayonet in him and he can't quite believe it is happening."
The final words are from Richard Lester: "Although I knew John as well as I knew the other Beatles I only got to know him well during the production of this new picture. I was tremendously impressed by John. More than by anyone else I have ever met. Particularly by his ability to cut through all the outside layers and get to the heart of people and matters. Many times when I was setting up a scene John would say something like 'But look . . . that's daft . . . it should be like this' or 'Aren't we supposed to be doing so-and-so in this scene'. Well, I'd stop and think about it and realise John was right. This is not something he has learned--it's instinctive. He tries to be supremely honest, not only with the people he meets but, above all, with himself."