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MICHAEL DOUGLAS IN 'HAIL HERO' WITH DEBORAH WINTERS

year: 1969 cast: Michael Douglas, Deborah Winters rating: ***
In the beginning of Michael Douglas's thereafter-gigantic career he plays Carl Dixon, a free-spirit during the Vietnam era who returns from New York college life to a rural farm family that's harbored proud fighting men since the Civil War.

The first act of HAIL, HERO! has Carl entering into his small Southern hometown with the kind of jovial personality that embodies aimless sarcastic abandon...

First playing bull and matador with a truckload of Mexican workers and eventually being misunderstood by his uptight father, who gives him a nice clean haircut right away. From his era, kids didn't let their "freak flag fly." Plus it gave Michael Douglas, perhaps weighed-down under his famous father's immense shadow, a more mainstream and handsome look in spite of his carefree hippie character.

Becky (Deborah Winters, right) with her virginal friend on a horse
The best scenes involve blond starlet Deborah Winters who, that same year, played a teenage rebel bad-tripping on acid in THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR. Here’s she’s a promiscuous country girl with a crush on Carl and a past relationship with his older brother, Frank...

In the thankless straight man role, Peter Strauss might as well be Nick Nolte's uptight brother in RICH MAN POOR MAN. Strauss's Frank was crippled because of Carl and holds a grudge that enters into the final act, taking place at a big party where generations collide. But it’s one prolonged segment with Douglas and Winters, splashing around in a swimming hole wearing close to nothing, that provides something for either sex to enjoy.

Deborah Winters takes a dip as Becky in HAIL, HERO!
Unlike many counter-culture flicks, HERO is never too preachy or annoyingly idealistic. The soundtrack is large and brassy and the acting, including veterans Arthur Kennedy and Teresa Wright, is topnotch.

Meanwhile the sporadic use of muted flashbacks of important memories – like Carl's father having an affair with the Spanish maid and the accident that changed Frank’s life – make this rare curio more interesting that it sometimes deserves to be, and, despite being dated and ultimately stagey, with a really bizarre and pointless midsection where Frank smokes pot with a hermit woman in a cave, what's really important is the introduction of Micheal Douglas, proving, as the son of legendary Kirk Douglas, that he could hold his own.
Introducing Michael Douglas in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky (with Michael Douglas) in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky (with Michael Douglas) in HAIL, HERO!
Deborah Winters as Becky (with Michael Douglas) in HAIL, HERO!
Peter Strauss with Deborah Winters in HAIL, HERO!
Peter Strauss, Deborah Winters and Michael Douglas in HAIL HERO!
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