Sunday, September 25, 2016

See Emily Play

The Americanization of Emily (1964) was written by Paddy Chayefsky, and it shows. It is an overwritten mess, falling into the crack between late screw and early modern comedy. But it's a lot of fun.

It stars James Garner as a cynical Navy dog robber in the last days of WWII. A "dog robber" is the guy who makes things happen, who greases the wheels, who comes up with the good food and booze for his officer's dinners. He works for a political Admiral, played by Melvyn Douglas. When Garner comes to London, he runs around hustling all the good food and patting the corpswomen on the butt. But his driver, Julie Andrews as Emily, doesn't appreciate that kind of behavior. She has lost her husband and brother to the war. Her nation has starved and deprived itself for the effort, and then the Americans show up, throwing around Hershey's bars and nylons, and expect to be loved for it.

Garner has different views of war - he thinks it gets people killed, and should be avoided at all costs. He has dedicated himself to staying out of combat and enjoying himself as much as possible in the circumstances. He even delivers a long Chayefskyesque monologue on the subject to Emily and her dotty mother.

It's a good monologue, but it isn't hard to see Chayefsky at his typewriter behind the scene. But it isn't just the improbable dialog. The second act twist is that Emily falls in love with Garner because he is such a coward - she feels secure that she will never lose him to the war. Fair enough although Andrews' motivation doesn't seem quite real (even though she gets her own monologues). Then, the third act.

Admiral Melvyn Douglas starts getting a bit weird, demanding that the first to die on D-Day be a sailor, for the glory of the Navy. James Coburn, another dog robber who has been concerned about nothing but getting the WAVEs into bed, decides to go all gung-ho and make sure that that first dead sailor is Garner.

Of course, Coburn is great in this role, with his giant toothy grin. But does he make any sense? Does Andrews' reaction make any sense? Does any of it? At least the Admiral's behavior can be explained by a mental crackup.

Nonetheless, we liked this quite a bit. It was directed by the recently deceased Arthur Hiller, who keeps things moving. Garner, Douglas, and especially Coburn are always fun. Julie Andrews has a lot less to work with, even though she's the title character, but she's not bad.

I'd say, watch this if you like mid-century anti-war war films, if you like Garner and Coburn, and you like or don't mind well-crafted but lumpy screenwriting.

In conclusion, Victor Victoria is a better Garner/Andrews movie.

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