A mild-mannered postman, driven to extremes by IRS injustice, single-handedly takes on the U.S. government. Based on actual IRS cases. [ Harry’s War credits: Dir: Kieth Merrill/ Edward Herrmann, Geraldine Page, Karen Grassle/ 98 min/ Comedy, Drama/ Anti-Taxation]
This is one of the most popular films among libertarians, and with good reason. It tells the story of a man who becomes galvanized to resist the U.S. Internal Revenue Service when his beloved aunt dies in tax court after unending harassment at IRS hands. He is not a superhero but an ordinary, naive, vulnerable person who only gradually realizes how much arbitrary power the IRS has been given.
Through his eyes, the viewer learns that the IRS can seize property and ask questions later; that it has its own courts in which no jury is allowed; and that the IRS’s tax code is impossible for the average person to understand and is in any case subject to the arbitrary interpretation of IRS judges. In short, citizens brought before the IRS are completely at its mercy. When the actual conflict starts, those familiar with other U.S. government actions against its citizens (e.g., the Waco Massacre) will see some definite parallels. The hero is accused of being crazy and of having hostages; he is denied contact with the press; the army is used against him; and ultimately an attempt is made to burn him to death. Happily, in this story, the press is relentless in its pursuit of the truth instead of being cowed by agency talking heads.
All this sounds pretty serious, but Harry’s War is as much comedy as drama, the violence being of the lighthearted Three Stooges variety in which no one gets killed despite plenty of explosions and gunfire. If only it were so in real life. As entertainment, this film is better than average. The start is a little slow, but it gradually builds into an effective, lighthearted drama with many comedic touches. Kieth Merrill wrote and directed. What better tribute to him than a few words from his own script, as one IRS agent in this film exclaims to another: “Do you realize what you have started? You could be single-handedly responsible for the destruction of income taxes in our country. This whole damn system works on a bluff. You know that. Once it’s blown, we go back to a constitutional government … [We agents will] be selling shoes!”
“For anyone who’s been audited by the IRS, this film is sheer joy—or at least vicarious revenge.”