“The first dead American on Omaha Beach will be a sailor!”
Six years before Catch-22 and M*A*S*H were released in theaters, The Americanization of Emily appeared almost out of nowhere. Vietnam was still low on the boiling plate of the American conscience, however, this film does hold the distinction of being the first anti-war film of the Vietnam era. Sweet Julie Andrews, only a few months earlier had burst on to the screen in the Disney film, Mary Poppins (1964). Five months after the release of Emily, she would be forever anointed in the public’s mind as Miss Goody Two Shoes with more sugar than a Cuban cane field, after the release of The Sound of Music (1965). Yet, in between those two films, slipping under the public’s radar, Andrews appeared in this dark biting anti-war satire.
James Garner is Lt. Commander Charlie Madison whose official position is acting as an aide for Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas). More importantly Madison’s unofficial position is being a “dog robber,” an aide who will obtain whatever the Admiral wants, legally…or not so legally, and Charlie’s the best. Charlie’s bartering arsenal includes a large supply of Hershey bars, stockings, bourbon and clothes to get what he needs. Stationed in England just prior to the D-Day invasion, Charlie can “buy” anything his commanding officer desires including steak, wine and women. Everyone knows good ol’ Charlie and likes him. If Charlie needs a favor, a box or two of Hershey’s chocolates or maybe a couple of pairs of nylons will help secure it. Remember, this is England, heavily rationed during the war.
Women gently accept a pat on the fanny from Charlie because he treats them good, inviting them to dinner parties with senior officers, giving them dresses and accessories to wear and keep afterwards. The only one not moved by Charlie is Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), a Brit motor pool driver assigned to the American Naval unit. Emily has already lost her father, brother and husband in various wars, and finds Charlie’s bartering of contraband goods, coarse, callous and self-serving, making the war one big party for him and his American mates while others suffer the pains of war. She tells him, “I believe in honor, service, courage, fair play, and cricket, and all the other symbols of British character, which have only civilized half the world!” To which Charlie responds, “You British plundered half the world for your own profit, let’s not pass it off as the Age of Enlightenment.”
Charlie’s rant continues, “You American haters bore me to tears, Ms. Barham. I’ve dealt with Europeans all my life. I know all about us pagans 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, Ms. 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, Ms. Barham to which we Americans are so insensitive, is the result of two-thousand years of European greed, barbarism, superstition, and stupidity. Don’t blame it on our Coca-Cola bottles.”
I quote the dialogue so extensively simply because it’s what makes this film so powerful. Based on a novel by William Bradford Huie with a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky who would later go on to expose the lunacy of other institutions in The Hospital(1971) and Network(1976). Chayefsky uses Huie’s novel as a launching pad to sound off on his anti-war, anti-establishment tirades. The dialogue is rich and clever. James Garner who has the pleasure of delivering the majority of the best lines gives hands down his best performance on film. He’s easily enjoying himself in the role of an activist for cowardly behavior, and proud of it. Garner was probably aware that he may never get the chance again to read such great writing.
Despite the initial bad start, and Emily’s resolve to never again fall for a man who was about to go off to war and die, she and Charlie fall in love. After all, she thought, Charlie was an officer’s aide stationed in the back lines, he was safe, or so she thought.
When Admiral Jessup’s depression over his wife’s death sends him off the deep end, he becomes convinced the Navy is losing the war…the war on publicity that is, with the Army and Marines getting all the glory in the European theater of operations. With the D-Day invasion only a short time away, Admiral Jessup becomes convinced that the first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor, and he wants Charlie there on the front lines to film it! Poor Charlie is now forced to choose between a court-martial, if he refuses the orders, or being the first man on Omaha Beach with only a sixteen millimeter camera to shoot. The Admiral Jessup character can easily be seen as a cousin or predecessor to Peter Finch’s Howard Beale in Network, another Chayefsky character who goes off the deep end, in this case, to satirize the craziness of how far TV would go to “entertain.”
The Americanization of Emily was filmed in black and white at a time when Hollywood was shooting everything in color. Director Arthur Hiller appropriately fought for this right against studio heads who wanted to expand the film’s commercial potential by using a bright color palette. The darkness of black and white is more in synch with the mood, ideas and message expressed in the film. It also smoothly matches actual newsreel footage of the D-Day invasion incorporated into the film.
James Garner and Julie Andrews made a great team. Garner confesses in his recent, and blunt memoir (The Garner Files), the lovely Ms. Andrews was a great kisser and he really enjoyed doing their love scenes. They would reunite on-screen some eighteen years later in her husband’s (Blake Edwards) Victor, Victoria. Also in the cast is James Coburn as the one officer who takes Admiral Jessup’s “invasion” plan seriously setting up his friend Charlie to be the first casualty on D-Day. Others in the cast include Kennan Wynn, William Windom, Joyce Grenfell and Alan Sues. A very young Judy Carne, best known as the “sock it to me” girl from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, has a small role as one of Coburn’s bed partners. Also, if you have a quick eye, you will spot Sharon Tate and Kent McCord (Adam-12) in walk-ons.
Will have to see this – just came across this, which came out in 2010:
VA – Next Stop Is Vietnam – The War On Record, 1961-2008 – 10 cd box set with booklet – many songs I’ve never heard – I guess it’s true, the Truth Is Out There although somewhat obscured by clouds (PF) –
Thanks for the write-up = Cheers!
Thanks for this CM, I was totally unaware this existed!
I am so glad you brought this incredible gem to light, and I would add that it has an amazing “twist” ending in which Emily does indeed get “Americanized.” Chayefsky was a three time Oscar winner, with “Network” ranking #8 on the WGA list of 101 Greatest Screenplays. He was intensely involved in all the films that he wrote, which led to much friction on his last screenplay Ken Russell’s “Altered States,” based on Chayefsky’s novel. However one feels about THAT film, the screenplay and dialogue are all Chayefsky, Russell was not allowed to change a word. Chayefsky died way too young and is sorely missed. But what a legacy he left behind. By the way there is a fabulous biography of him titled, “Mad AS Hell,” of course.
Chayefsky was certainly one of the best writers of his time. NETWORK is a film I do want to do a review on, hopefully later this year. Fabulous stuff. I was totally unaware of the bio on him. Will have to check it out. Thanks for the heads up. Glad you enjoyed the review. I added a link to another film Paddy wrote (MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT) if you’re interested.
John, I liked this a lot when I first saw it many years ago, rather less so when I saw it again a short while ago on TCM. Chayevsky can be unbearably preachy, but I didn’t really mind Garner’s rants here, despite the fact that they don’t sound the way anyone would actually talk, because his views had my sympathy. What I did object to was that Chayevsky didn’t see his political cynicism through to the end but had Garner see-sawing and finally coming down on the side of convention, and even did the same with Andrews’s character, having her start out repelled by Garner’s views, then accepting them, then going along with his change of heart at the end. I found it confusing to try to understand what he was really getting at. His ideas seemed to work better when taken in isolation, where you could pick and choose the ones you like. Still, as you say, Garner and Andrews are wonderful. Garner was such a natural, therefore underrated, actor. Apparently everyone who worked with him loved him. And Andrews shows great maturity, range, and serio-comic ability. It only she had done more roles like this, she would have gotten a lot more respect as an actress.
I agree Chayefsky could be preachy but I still love his dialogue. He was someone who gave damn and was passionate about what he wrote. It’s true both Garner and Andrews characters lose their idealism toward the end, all in the name of love. It was a cop-out for a happy ending by the filmmakers. This and I felt some rather flat direction by Arthur Hiller held this film back from being a truly superb film. Still, I ranked it at four and a half stars out of five.
I was really shocked when I saw this the first time, as it was not your usual Julie Andrews 1960s vehicle (although, I would again be shocked when I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie, too!). I like this movie a lot, and I really like the arguments between Andrews and Garner regarding what their countries represent.
What was shocking about Thoroughly Modern Millie? i have not seen it since its first release but I don’t remember anything shocking. Curious.
The film itself wasn’t shocking, but that Mary Poppins was playing such a character was.
I haven’t seen this one, John, but am really intrigued by your review and quotes from it – will aim to track it down soon. My area of England, Suffolk, used to have two big US air bases, which only closed down in the early 1990s, and the Americans were an important part of the local community, so I am interested in the theme of Americans in England as well as the anti-war satire.
Judy – Think you will like this. I am sure the closing of the air bases hurt economically. A few years back they were closing some bases here too and the local town suffered no longer having that business from the troops.
Whatever preachiness can be attributed to Chayevsky’s writing, one must in the end reject it as inconsequential. He is one of teh greatest screenwriters in the history of American cinema, one whose acerbic wit and satiric barbs hit home with his cultural and sociological focus. The anti-war satire is of course a major theme and Chayevsky is up to the task. Of course he is the celebrated writer of BEING THERE and NETWORK two of the finest of satires. (and as you note THE HOSPITAL) Like the Admiral Jessup and Howard Beale connection here too. Garner and Andrews are outstanding for sure, and Philip Lathrop’s black and white cinematography and Johnny Mandel’s music are stellar components.
John, typically you do a terrific job framing this minor gem from all angles.
Sam, I agree, He does get preachy, which may bother some, but his writing and targets are top notch. One thing, I don’t believe Paddy had any involvement with BEING THERE. The novel and screenplay were by another great writer, Jerzy Kozinski. Thanks Sam!
John, I had one of those Senior moments there. God. Sorry about that.
I have to disagree with you and others here that the film has a “cop out” ending-the ending is actually pure Chayefsky, but it’s subtle. All through the film Emily preaches the virtues of nobility in war while Charlie does the same for cowardice.
As noted in Chayefsky’s bio, “Mad as Hell,” Arthur Hiller comments on some of the negative reviews of the film which attacked it’s supposed anti-war stance on World War II.
“Some Reviewers became very emotional,” said Arthur Hiller. “They saw the film as anti-war. It wasn’t. It was the anti-glorification of war, that’s what Paddy was saying.” Paddy was saying” Let’s not glorify all this Don ‘t name streets after heroes. Don’t build statues. Don’t make it so heroic and noble that our children will want to go to war to become heroes”
So, the film ends with the Navy planning to glorify their first D-Day casualty, the allegedly dead Charlie. They will even erect a staue in his honor. Charlie, who is only wounded, gets wind of this and wants to expose the entire Navy scheme to the press. he will not be their patsy.
“This is a noble gesture on his part, but, who, or what purpose would it serve” (from “Mad as Hell”) In other words, Emily sees that erecting a statue to a man who is not a dead hero is the most foolish thing these jerks can do and shows them for the fools THEY are. She finally realizes that war is not so glorious after all and tells Charlie,”Good Lord! all the while I’ve been terrified of becoming Americanized, and you, you silly ass, have turned into a bloody sentimental Englishman!”
From “Mad as Hell”: “The desentimentalization of her feelings about the nobility of war-that was the true Americanization of Emily.”1
This is the point of the ending.
A tremendous response and thanks for it. It makes it much clearer what Chayefsky’s point was. It certainly clarifies a misinterpreted ending. I do need to get a copy of his bio. Thanks much!
John, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, but I remember liking the anti-war satire, even though the dialogue was more like speechifying rather than natural speech. Granted, excellent points were made, and the performances and Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue are undeniably memorable. Still, I’d like to give …EMILY my undivided attention again soon and give it a fairer shake, as I remember liking the film more than not! 🙂 In any event, I enjoyed your writing, as always!
By the way, I included a link to TWENTY-FOUR FRAMES over at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED in reference to my review of THE GLASS KEY:
Do hope you get to watch this again. PD was one of the great screenplay writers. Wish he was more prolific over the years. I will check out your latest review on THE GLASS KEY and thanks for the link and the good words.
John, I’m sad to say that the title of this film swayed me from seeing it for many years. Then one day, I bought a boxed set called “Controversial Classics” to get some other films and EMILY was included. Since I owned, I watched it…and liked it very much. I kept waiting for Garner’s character to change, but his consistency in his beliefs is one of the great strengths of the film. Julie is OK, but Garner is terrific in what may be his best performance (though he’s excellent in a supporting role in THE CHILDREN’S HOUR).
Hi Rick (and John) :
For years the film was not available on DVD until Warners came out with that boxed-set which I have also. Vanity Fair came out with a terrific article on the film in their annual Hollywood issue in 2005. In that article, there was an impassioned plea to get the film out on DVD. Thank goodness it was heard.
Chayefsky is one of my heroes, starting with his “Golden Age” TV work all the way up to his death. Unfortunately I am unfamiliar with his plays like “The Tenth Man,” but several years ago a three volume set of ALL his works was published. And there is his biography which is a brilliant
analysis of his life and work.
I have two favorite Chayefsky moments, Marty’s impassioned response to his mother ( “I’m ugly, ugly”…..) by both Rod Steiger (TV) and Ernest Borgnine (film) and Mr. Jensen”s (Ned Beatty) tirade to Howard Beale in “Network,” which brought Beatty an Oscar nomination just for that one scene. Listen to that speech now, “There are no countries, there are no religions, there is only business……) and see how true it rings today.
The history of “Altered States” is very interesting, although Chayefsky took his name off the film and substituted Sidney Aron (his real name).
However one feels about the film, go back to it and listen to the dialogue–it’s pure Chayefsky and a real pleasure. Unfortunately, he butted heads with Ken Russell and lost, but the dialogue remains.
Speaking of Ken Russell, John, some day, if you haven’t already, you must write a piece on “The Devils.”
I purchased the DVD of EMILY by itself, so the film must have been released both as part of a box set and individually. Anyway, your passion for Chayefsky’s work burns through your every word. No doubt about it, his dialogue is masterful. I read his play, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT many years, ago though like you, I have not read THE TENTH MAN. I think Chayefsky’s work was always filled with a strong sense of humanity whether hopeful (Marty) or cynical (Network).
I saw “ALTERED STATES back when it was first released and remember liking it. Actually, the same applies to THE DEVILS, neither of which I have written about. It’s been so long, I need to go back and revisit both of them. I am a fan of Russell’s work, he took chances and sometimes his was gloriously successful and others time not so much but his work was never dull.
Have you seen MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? It pops up on TCM once in a while. I don’t believe it is out on DVD, and really deserves to be!
Glad you broke down and watched it Rick (LOL). Garner is terrific in this film. He is a joy to watch. I never thought he ever got much credit as an actor. For me, he just always comes across as likable and charming.
TCM showed ‘Emily’ a while back & [as I recall] the ‘hero’ was shot & stayed dead,
but that ending [possibly banned by the Navy] has now vanished [w/o comment by
TCM or anyone else — & I made a point of giving each showing my full attention].
Looks like the fix is in, so unlikely that Osborne will ever comment.
Eugene, to tell you the truth I am totally unaware of an original ending where Garner’s character stays dead. The first time I saw the film was back in 1964 when it first came out and it had the same ending as we see now. Also, I have read James Garner’s memoir and while he talks about the film, he does not mention the filming of a second ending. Not saying there was not one done. Just saying I have seen no evidence of it.
Perhaps possible that  film was shown [just after Garner’s demise] with original ending [subsequent to the Normandy beach shooting] omitted; or that  I fell asleep before the ‘happy ending’ could be dropped into my [ever gullible] consciousness.
By way of trivia, the name of the SF Giants’ winning pitcher [in their recent wild card triumph], “Madison Bumgarner”, combines elements of [a] Garner’s
aforementioned character [‘LCDR Madison’] & [b] Jim’s original surname
[reportedly shortened w/o his permission]. Even more trivial perhaps:
the name of my oldest living classmate [one ‘Charles E. M_____’
(USN Retired)] bears an uncanny resemblance to that of ‘Mister Madison’,
often addressed as ‘Commander’, contrary to Navy protocol –
[though both seem more at home with ‘Charlie’].
Eugene, thanks for those bits of trivia. Always fascinating to come across these kinds of coincidences.