Friday, June 4, 2010

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

The lively but somehow slightly distasteful The Americanization of Emily stars James Garner as a WWII naval officer who happens to be a craven coward. While his comrades sail off to their deaths, Garner makes himself scarce, generally hiding out in the London flat of his lothario navy buddy James Coburn. Garner falls in love with virtuous war widow Julie Andrews (the "Emily" of the title), but she can't abide his yellow streak. Meanwhile, crack-brained admiral Melvyn Douglas decides that he needs a hero--the first man to die on Omaha Beach during the D-Day Invasion. Coburn is at first elected for this sacrifice, but it is the quivering Garner who ends up hitting the beach. He survives to become a hero in spite of himself, winning Andrews in the process. Paddy Chayefsky's script, based on the novel by William Bradford Huie, attempts to extract humor out of the horrors of war by using broad, vulgar comedy instead of the light satirical touch that would seem to be called for. Americanization of Emily was Julie Andrews' second film; it should have led to a steady stream of adult-oriented roles, but the box-office clout of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music consigned her to "wholesome family entertainment". ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 115 mins
The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Quite an excellent film. I enjoyed it immensely and one of James Garner's best performances. I disagree with it being vulgar-at least by today's standards. But was surprised by the nudity-although only the backs of young women it still has the two men in the room unashamedly looking at them in the nude from their angle. The only part that might be over the top for distasteful dialogue was when Garner's character explained his opinions of war to Andrews' mother with the three of them there.

I liked to see the character development and the back and forth of the romance. Garner's character changed very little but Andrews' showed quite a bit of change in opinion of wars.

While this was portrayed as anti-war and anti-American, it clearly does not meet either criteria from my perspective. First the director even admitted as such on the director's cut commentary. He said that it was not meant as anti-war but over glorification of war, and clearly most good war movies have been that way including most versions of "All Quiet on the Western Front". And even thought the Americans are brass and pompous they still have admirable qualities including generosity. One aspect that might be considered distasteful is the idea of sacrificing individual soldiers for an idea that has no real value. In this case it was to have a Navy soldier be the first to die. I am sure that many died before even hitting the beach as the Germans used mortars, long-range artillery and long barrel riffles that could easily hit and kill soldiers in the open air transports. In real wars many men died as soon as the door of the transport opened up.

This film does a good job in showing the inherent problems of direct authoritarian hierarchical structures when one man decides the fate of an individual or any group of men. If that man is unfit for command because of mental and emotional problems then his/her decisions could be against the welfare of his/her troops.

My wife was right that Garner's character could not die off. I know that most films during that time period could never have a hero die off, I just could not help but think that the anti-war elements would see him die as both the witnesses said he died in battle.

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