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  Americanization of Emily, The Coward Of The Country
Year: 1964
Director: Arthur Hiller
Stars: James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas, James Coburn, Joyce Grenfell, Edward Binns, Liz Fraser, Keenan Wynn, William Windom, John Crawford, Douglas Henderson, Edmon Ryan, Steve Franken, Paul Newlan, Gary Cockrell, Bill Fraser, Linda Marlowe
Genre: Comedy, Drama, War, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lieutenant Commander Charles Madison (James Garner) is stationed in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, but he's not exactly a dedicated military man. In fact, he's what's known as a "dog runner", that is a man in the services who knows how to get his hands on goods that might otherwise be rationed or even unavailable when the conflict is raging, anything from bourbon to chocolate bars to perfume and fancy frocks to impress the woman in your life - even if that woman is only in your life for an evening. Thus when he meets British driver Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), he is quite taken aback when she doesn't react to him as fondly as all those other personnel who would like his favours...

The Americanization of Emily started life as a novel by William Bradford Huie, but once screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky got hold of it, the material became one of his polemics of which Network would be the most celebrated some ten years or so later. It generated controversy in its day for its frank language (Julie Andrews gets called a "bitch"!) and sexual situations, nothing that would particularly bother anyone these days but for 1964 it was groundbreaking and one of the movies that led to a loosening of the censorship codes as the powers that be began to recognise it was no use, the genie was out of the bottle as far as more explicit productions were concerned.

That said, it took a high tolerance for listening to characters pontificate to truly appreciate Chayefsky's work here, which a good few did, this going on to become a cult movie among those who prefer dialogue over action (though there was an element of the latter as well). Nevertheless, the sense of being lectured to was never far away as the writer gave the impression of setting the world to rights from the comfort of his armchair - or writing desk - and that could prove irksome unless you were in full agreement with his protagonist, the self-proclaimed coward, and proud of it, Charles. He undoubtedly had a lot of space to put forward his point of view, and so long did the philosophising go on that this story, though lasting just under two hours, did come across as far lengthier.

That philosophy was not showing up cowardice to be a bad thing at all, it was actually, according to this, a good thing since if everyone was a coward during wartime then sure, there would be no heroes, but also there would be a lot more people still alive and able to enjoy life, not to mention no war widows like Emily who has seen three members of her family die in the current combat, and if she is honest, now she is (surprise!) attracted to Charles she wouldn't like to see him exit her life either, especially in the violent fashion a war can arrange. The spanner in the works comes when he is assigned by an increasingly stressed and out of it Admiral (Melvyn Douglas) to make a film of the first man on Omaha Beach, so that he can capture the image of the first person to die there as well.

They being the same person, and even more possibly they being Charles. His previously content to live his best pal's high life friend Bus Cummings (James Coburn, doing well in a tricky role that runs dramatically hot and cold) decides when the Admiral collapses that he will make sure his cinematic newsreel wish is fulfilled. Thus you have a bit about the madness of war to contrast with Charles and his often-explained decisions to stay as far away from the fighting as possible, though there was the additional novelty for British audiences (or fans of British films) seeing Andrews tackling the very American Garner - they made a pretty convincing couple - as well as in support the likes of Liz Fraser and Joyce Grenfell showing up for a few scenes, which sounds unlikely but they were comedy performers and Grenfell in particular turns nicely serious, as comedy performers can have in their repertoire. But the issue most would have with this was that if you were not caught up in the conversations, it could easily have run half an hour shorter and be a lot punchier as a result. Music by Johnny Mandel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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