Warner Bros. // 1964 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 25th, 2005
Swinging's their game and London will never be the same!
Part of Warner's Controversial Classics line, The Americanization of Emily stars James Garner (Maverick, The Notebook) as Lt. Commander Charles Madison, a "dog robber" in World War II working for Admiral Jessup (Melvyn Douglas, Being There) procuring liquor, throwing parties and performing other social activities for the benefit of our nation's war heroes. Madison also finds party girls with his buddy Lt. Bus Cummings (the late James Coburn, Affliction), a man with only a few more scruples than Madison. It's during one of Madison's searches for the opposite sex he meets and falls in love with war widow Emily Barham (Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins), a prudish English woman annoyed by American brashness and arrogance. Though Charles is a coward (he has a personal agenda to keep himself far from stray bullets and bombs), Emily still finds herself attracted to him. When Admiral Jessup begins to crack up under the pressures of war, Charles is ordered to make a public relations film about the first casualties on the Normandy beaches. Little does he know he's about to become America's number one sacrifice!
Director Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily is considered an under-appreciated classic of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Written by Paddy Chayefsky (who also penned 1955's award winning Ernest Borginine vehicle Marty) from a novel by William Bradford, The Americanization of Emily is a dark comedy about the perils of war. Though slow at times, The Americanization of Emily is a scathing look at how war truly is hell, unless you're lucky enough to have the right job.
As Lt. Madison, James Garner is his usual charming self. He's that rare actor who is able to convey easy-going swagger onscreen without coming off as annoying or overly cocky. Garner plays Madison as someone just trying to have a little fun during one of our world's darkest wars (he is, in a way, a long lost cousin of Sgt. Ernie Bilko). Garner finds chemistry with Julie Andrews, an actress who reminds us that she has done great work in racier movies than Mary Poppins and The Princess Diaries. The supporting cast is great, including James Coburn as Garner's wartime buddy and Melvyn Douglas as the batty Admiral Jessup. Coburn is able use his charming In Like Flynt-attitude to full effect here while Douglas's Jessup is the poster boy for wartime sickness.
However, the movie really belongs to Andrews and Garner's romantic chemistry. Though a bit corny by today's standards, Garner and Andrews have an undeniable link between them. Though their character may come into question during the film, both Emily and Charles are intelligent, witty people who find that falling in love during a war isn't easy. Director Arthur Hiller (who also helmed the comedies The Out-of-Towners and The In-Laws) shows a restrained, deft touch with the material.
The Americanization of Emily isn't a movie of enormous social importance; it's breezy and light (though sometimes cynical), even with its sobering war-time theme. There are, however, a few moments that resonate with today's headlines, which give the film that much more weight and comedy.
The Americanization of Emily is presented in a glorious-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Warner once again has done a fantastic job of making sure this transfer is clear of any major defects (including dirt, grain, and other imperfections). The black and gray levels are all solid and dark while the whites are crisp and bright. This is, in fact, a great looking transfer that should please those who love the fact that Warner is doing a great job at film restoration.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround in English. This very flat sound mix is good, if not great. The good news is that it accurately represents how the film's soundtrack was originally presented. Dialogue is clearly heard with a minimum of hiss or distortion. Overall this is a decent soundtrack that also includes a mono track in French, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Only a few extra features have been included on this disc. The best is a commentary track by director Arthur Hiller (labeled incorrectly on the DVD case as film historian Drew Casper). Hiller seems to think this is one of his best films, and his track is enlightening, with info about the cast, the production (the military offered no help and did not approve the screenplay), and Hiller's feelings on the war. Also included on the disc is the short, rather bland behind-the-scenes featurette "Action on the Beach" and a theatrical trailer for the film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Attack on the Beach" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Commentary Track By Director Arthur Hiller