James Garner plays a soldier who excels in supplying creature comforts for his boss rather than take part in any direct combat. His character has the flavour of the men in MASH. He ducks combat duties to move contraband around.
Insane Scheme to Film Dead Soldier on Omaha Beach
Julie Andrews plays Emily who is far better intentioned. She has lost her husband in the war and takes Garner to task over his cynicism and defeatism. The dialogue between them is sharp, intelligent and fast. The script by Paddy Chayefsky has been highly regarded and compared favourably to Dr Strangelove. The film enjoys the inhuman comedy of Garner’s CO who hatches an insane scheme to ensure the first casualty on Omaha Beach is a naval man. Garner is sent to film this death.
The Americanization of Emily and Vietnam
It is daring of Chayefsky to set this film in WWII as it is rare that anyone makes an anti-war film about a war that is uniformly agreed to have been just. But the more immediate context for The Americanization of Emily was American’s own involvement in Vietnam. More than anti-war the film is antagonistic towards the way officers see soldiers and enlisted men. To send a film crew to purposely shoot the first American killed on D-Day is a dark, macabre exploration of the kinds of decisions that officers routinely make. More than an anti or pro war film it is a satire aimed squarely at an incompetent, heartless and ignorant officer class.
A Realistic View of World War II
It is daring that Garner’s character is allowed to explain that he ducked front-line military duties because he had good connections. The film is clearly prepared to show a darker, more realistic view of US armed services than is normally depicted in WWII movies. It is far closer to the corruption described in a book like James Jones’ The Thin Red Line where it is alleged that a young soldier could get himself out of the front-line if he had a homosexual affair with a senior officer or sergeant.
Julie Andrews in Hollywood
This was Julie Andrew’s first big American film after leaving Camelot on Broadway. The film allows her to display her subtlety as an actor even though she is better known for Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music which were filmed in the same period.
Also look out for a great performance from British comedienne Joyce Grenfell as Emily’s mother. Manson family victim Sharon Tate also features in the film in a bit part.
The Americanization of Emily was nominated for two Oscars for Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration and for Best Cinematography for the film’s black and white photography.
The film also features a great title song written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer who had worked together and won Oscars for Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses.