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A WWII "dog robber" stationed in London, whose job entails procuring steaks, liquor and women for his Navy superiors, Charles Madison (James Garner) is a self-proclaimed coward opposed to the feigned bravery and self-sacrifice of war. A combination personal assistant and black marketeer, Charlie attends to the every whim of an increasingly scatterbrained Admiral William Jessep (Melvyn Douglas, who based his character on his own military experience), from stocked bars to shoulder massages... while his countrymen wage war in Europe.
In this black comedy scripted by Paddy Chayefsky (Marty (1955), Network, 1976) Charlie is just as cynical when it comes to women, greeting female soldiers with a friendly pat on the rump until his palmmeets the wrong woman, Emily Barham (Julie Andrews).
Released between the blockbuster films Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965), The Americanization of Emily(1964) proved that Andrews's talents were hardly limited to her singing voice and that her charms were just as engaging in a modest comedy as in alavish musical.
A proper, repressed war widow who refuses to take part in the atmosphere of frivolity that infects her countrywomen in uniform, Emily nonetheless fallsfor the cavalier Charlie, whose cowardice turns out to be his best selling point for a woman who has lost a husband, father and brother in the war. "It is your most important asset, being a coward," she tells him, "Every man I ever loved was a hero and all he got was death,"
But Charlie's taste for absurdity is trumped when he and his love 'em and leave 'em roommate "Bus" Cummings (James Coburn) are given a soberingassignment: to film the landing on Omaha Beach and record the first death of a Navy man. Suddenly two men enjoying the high life far from the front lines are forced to confront the ridiculousness of war firsthand, risking their lives to valorize the certain death of another, all in the name of public relations and patriotism.
A cynical soldier who sees the war as an opportunity for profit rather than for noble self-sacrifice, Charlie is the precursor to all the irreverent, pleasure-seeking soldiers of war films to come, such as MASH (1970), Catch-22 (1970) and Apocalypse Now (1979).
Controversial upon its original release, The Americanization of Emily was a vanguard anti-war film, poking fun at mindless patriotism years before such films were fashionable or popularly accepted. Yet the film proved a commercial success, and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Musical Score.
Director: Arthur Hiller
Producer: Martin Ransohoff
Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky
Based on the novel by William Bradford Huie
Cinematography: Philip Lathrop
Production Design: George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace,Robert R. Benton
Music: Johnny Mandel
Cast: James Garner (Lt. Comdr. Charles E. Madison), Julie Andrews (EmilyBarham), Melvyn Douglas (Adm. William Jessep), James Coburn (Lt. Comdr."Bus" Cummings), Joyce Grenfell (Mrs. Barham), Keenan Wynn (Sailor).
BW-115m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster