Monday, May 28, 2012

"The Americanization of Emily" (1964) James Garner, Julie Andrews, written by Paddy Chayefsky

PhotobucketThis 1964 film could be described as an anti-war film in some ways, but I think the best description would be as James Garner, one of my favorite actors and the star of the film, later said in his memoirs, "It allows that sometimes war is necessary, like when you have to defend yourself from an invader. But don't make war so wonderful that kids want to make "the ultimate sacrifice" when they grow up. If we want to end war, we have to stop building shrines (to war)..."

"...Emily", directed by Arthur Hiller, is a movie I remember seeing for the first time shortly after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the end of the Vietnam War. It struck a nerve with me, a nerve that exposed me to the fact that most other war films I had ever seen engaged in nobility and sentiments that those men and women who actually experinced war didn't experience--at least until years later.

The end of the Vietnam War in other words a perfect time to see a film that seemed to have been made for an audience a decade ahead of its release date. It showed that every war, even the Second World War, "the Good War" had its share of madness and pointedly senseless sacrifices.

To me the near monologue James Garner delivers here is one of the great anti-war statements of the 1960's, as great as you will find in the novels "Catch-22" and "Slaughterhouse-5" by Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., respectively

This film was made at the start of the Vietnam War but is set twenty years earlier in England. Garner's character is Charlie Madison,a junior officer who is the adjutant to a admiral who is obsessed not with a successful Operation Overlord (the D-Day Invasions) but with the notion that a sailor or marine should be the first to die on a Normandy landing beach, to create a "Tomb of the Unknown Sailor" to match that of the "Unknown Soldier" back at Arlington National Cemetery.

Madison, a former enlisted man and "dog robber" (one who steals supplies of rationed goods from other companies and works the black market to keep his superiors happy) is to be that man. But in this scene his character doesn't know that yet. All he knows is that the young lady he is interested in, Emily, has invited him home to tea to meet her mother in the family garden. He has been warned the mother has lost her husband and a son and has gone a bit mad. But Madison decides to give her his personal war experiences (and pragmatic philosophy) to Emily's "mum" as truthfully and as honestly as he does everyone else in the film, without sentiment and without sparing any sector of society.

I think it's one of the best scenes you'll see from any American movie from the 1960's.

The writer, Chayefsky, had been a US Army infantryman who was wounded by a mine explosion during a combat march. James Garner had also been an Army foot soldier, a decorated Korean War vet who had been wounded by friendly fire and nearly perished in an all-out assault by Chinese troops on a position his company held.

Arthur Hiller had also seen combat action in World War II.The man who played the dangerously depressed and unbalanced Admiral Jessup in the film (Melvyn Douglas) had previously served in the two world wars.

Julie Andrews (who played Emily, the WREN officer) spent many nights singing to keep up morale among her fellow "prisoners" of the Luftwaffe in a London bomb shelter as a young girl during The Blitz.

In short, this was made by people who knew war first-hand, which makes what is said here all the more powerful.

But, judging by the rakish poster art (below) , one could be forgiven as a casual movie-goer in 1964 for thinking this film had little to do with serious matters and was just another run of the mill service comedy.

"The Americanization of Emily" did not do well at the box office that year, although it was a critical success, won Mr. Chayefsky an Academy Award, and earned a respected following since then.


  1. This is a Julie Andrews film I have never heard of, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I don't like war films usually but if I will watch out for this one turning up somewhere. I'm assuming Julie doesn't sing in this one?

  2. No, Iri Ani, Dame Julie doesn't sing a note as I recall. But even those who don't like war films, like yourself, may well find this film refreshing.

  3. This film was and is a treasure, and often overlooked. Thanks for the review!!!!

  4. I agree Will. I thought it likely you have seen and appreciated this film. :-)

  5. Must reboot and shall return Doug.

  6. Never have seen this movie Doug. Gardner certainly takes this within a casual manner and Emily whom is Julie Andrews I had never knew she was in a movie as such. It's rather different as it's not serious. From what I read above it was released within the beginning of the Vietnam war. Yet what what Gardner says within this film has worth.
    Actually Gardner takes a turn within the dialogue of what war really is when he goes further within discussion with
    ..."Mrs. Brown".

  7. Yes, there is a lot going on in the scene as in all good film scenes. The mother is not all there at first but then she realizes I think how sincere Madison (Garner) is. Meanwhile, Emily (Andrws) is obviously interested in him than she realizes because she's hoping he's unattached after their own rocky start as a couple where he is frankly dismissive but later respectful of her. Then you have his philosophy on war and how no one can take an position of immunity from promoting it. It's really quite provocative for a USA movie in 1964 if you ask me.

  8. I caught that within Gardner's tone after the formality of discussion one he was asked he did was very straight to the point of what was "the military." It's not of the likes of what we see today, mind you society was going very well after world war 2 and the industrial revolution.

  9. Sure is a lot going on... to the point of distraction.

    Count me as another who has heard of this film mostly in passing but never had anyone actually discuss it or certainly not to recommend it, so here I go again, adding another film to my queue to see his autumn.

    As for the "damning with faint praise" the attributes of war, I didn't get much feeling of it being an anti-Vietnam message but the "we killed 10 million people to save humanity," certainly addresses the recurring issue of war as surely the most convoluted human creation for the advancement of the species ever invented.

  10. Yes, Jack, you can see why this film probably rubbed some people the wrong way.

  11. LOL! @ distraction. It is rather dense dialogue, I'll grant you. Like a GB Shaw play.

    i probably over played the Vietnam angle Chuck, but it is a film worth seeing.

  12. I say that because after listening to a few of the exchanges (the video's kinda messed up, right? or was it just my goofy computer and iffy internet connection?) between Garner and "the mom," I started paying more attention to the choices of words than the content thereof.

    I suspect it'll be one of those movies best viewed more than once, just so a viewer can take it all in....

  13. Yes, unfortunetly the quality of the video is not good.

    And like other Paddy Chavefsky, most famously "Network", more than one viewing is a good idea. I have seen this movie a few times in the past, Chuck, but I had to view this clip a couple times before I felt I could really comment on it.