Americanization of Emily, The (1964)

The Americanization of Emily (1964), directed by Arthur Hiller.

Surprisingly cynical comedy about honor and cowardice, and how love copes with both.

James Garner is a proud coward. He sees life as it "is", not how it "ought" to be and can find no reason why he should fight and die in something as abstract as WW2. So he works as a dog robber, supplying all his admiral's needs while living well himself far from the fighting. This is not a comical pose; he's serious about what he wants.

The twist is that his crazy admiral arranges for him to be the first man on the beach during the Normandy Invasion.

Julie Andrews is his British driver, much disapproving of their sybaritic lifestyle in the face of years of deprivation and sacrifice in England. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky tends to have his characters rant and speechify and has Garner reply:


You American-haters bore me to tears, Miss Barham. I've dealt with Europeans all my life. I know all about us parvenus from the States who come over here and race around your old Cathedral towns with our cameras and Coca-cola bottles... Brawl in your pubs, paw at your women, and act like we own the world. We over-tip, we talk too loud, we think we can buy anything with a Hershey bar. I've had Germans and Italians tell me how politically ingenuous we are, and perhaps so. But we haven't managed a Hitler or a Mussolini yet. I've had Frenchmen call me a savage because I only took half an hour for lunch. Hell, Miss Barham, the only reason the French take two hours for lunch is because the service in their restaurants is lousy. The most tedious lot are you British. We crass Americans didn't introduce war into your little island. This war, Miss Barham, to which we Americans are so insensitive, is the result of 2000 years of European greed, barbarism, superstition, and stupidity. Don't blame it on our Coca-cola bottles. Europe was a going brothel long before we came to town.

The character lectures and blasts everyone within range, including war widows. It's a 60s message: nonconformist, anti-war and anti-military, or more exactly, anti-officer. Still, the touch is lighter than say M*A*S*H. Chayefsky doesn't hate the crazy admiral, and he knows war is necessary, he just doesn't want it ennobled or glorified.

Normally in romantic comedy both the man and woman must evolve and accommodate each other (Pride and Prejudice is the textbook) and Julie Andrews does, finally accepting his morals. But he doesn't change apart from a little noble wavering in the last scene, but she talks him out of it.

Andrews is incandescently lovely. I would rather have had more of her and less of the drunken admirals and interservice rivalry plot. This was just after Mary Poppins (1964) and before The Sound of Music (1965). She had such a wholesome "good girl" image during this period that is odd to see her mauling and being mauled in passion scenes. I keep meaning to read her autobiography. She was under 10 years old during the War and I've heard she would give performances in the underground shelters during air raids. (Later: that was a PR myth).

The wikipedia article says that in the novel, "Americanization" refers to trading sex for chocolate bars, stockings, etc. That doesn't happen to Emily in the movie: she's in love. So is he, and says he would die for her, coward that he is.

I notice the houses have no blackout curtains. Didn't that continue until the very end of the War?