This 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.