When a cast headed by James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn and Melvyn Douglas is given a brilliant script by Paddy Chayevsky, one would expect that the result would be a knockout of a film, and that is precisely what The Americanization of Emily delivers. It is a scintillating romantic comedy which takes place during the days leading up to D-Day in 1944, and it has a decidedly anti-war point of view. In the capable hands of director Arthur Hiller, it is as relevant today as the day it was released (contrary to some reports, this is not Hiller's first major motion picture - that honor goes to The Wheeler Dealers, which was released nearly a year before The Americanization of Emily). This gorgeous black & white film has now come to Blu-ray courtesy of the Warner Archive program, and it has been given a mostly sterling transfer.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 45 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/11/2014
Lieutenant Commander Charlie Madison (Garner) is not your typical U.S. Navy officer. Stationed in London, he is the aide to Admiral William Jessup (Douglas), and Charlie's primary responsible is to make the Admiral's life as luxurious as possible. In military parlance Charlie is known as a "dog-robber," an officer who uses his contacts and influence to acquire fine foods, wine, liquor, chocolates, and fashionably attired women for the Admiral and his guests (the women are members of the British motor pool; Charlie provides the designer dresses and perfumes). He is aided in his endeavors by the Admiral's adjutant, Lieutenant Commander Bus Cummings (Coburn), an Annapolis graduate whose poor eyesight has prevented him from getting sea duty.A month before D-Day, Charlie arrives in London with a newly-acquired supply of eggs, bacon, marmalades, butter, oranges, and coffee. His assigned driver from the motor pool is the radiant Emily Barham (Andrews), who has known more than her share of tragedy since the war broke out in 1939. Several members of her family have lost their lives, including her husband at Tobruk and her father during an air raid. The British have endured nearly five years of deprivation, and Emily initially finds it repugnant that the American officers have luxuries which are denied to most civilians. However, one evening Admiral Jessup needs a female guest for bridge, and Charlie invites Emily. Her immediate response is to decline, but she reconsiders after Charlie calls her a prig. She later relents and ends up having a wonderful evening - so wonderful, in fact, that she ends up in Charlie's bed.In the meantime, Admiral Jessup is worrying that the Army will get all of the credit for D-Day and that the Navy might be essentially dismantled when the war ends. He puzzles over a way to get the point across to the powers that be in Washington that the Navy is playing a crucial role in the invasions, and he seizes upon a bizarre and macabre plan - he wants the first dead American to be a sailor, and he wants it to be filmed! He assigns the project to Charlie and Bus, who assume that the Admiral will regain his senses and come to realize that the entire idea is lunacy. What they do not realize is that Jessup, who recently lost his wife, may actually be coming unhinged.In spite of herself, Emily finds herself falling for Charlie. She disapproves of almost everything that he stands for - he is a self-avowed coward, a schemer, and a scoundrel. Indeed, she initially agrees to have a relationship with him precisely because he is dedicated to avoiding combat, as she has had her fill of never seeing loved ones again. However, Charlie also has a refreshingly candid appraisal of war, which he regards as human folly. There is no glory in dying, he insists, and he believes that war would cease to exist if people stopped treating it as a noble activity. While having tea with Emily and her mother (Joyce Grenfell), he expounds upon his opinion of war:Cowardice will save the world. It's not war that's insane, you see. It's the morality of it. It's not greed and ambition that makes wars. It's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons. For liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far in this war, we've managed to butcher some 10 million humans in the interest of humanity. Unfortunately, Charlie's plan to spend the rest of the war in a peaceful, idyllic relationship with Emily is threatened when he astonishingly learns that Admiral Jessup is serious about getting his film made.The Americanization of Emily is a remarkable film which, for 1964, was surprisingly frank both in its anti-war sentiments and its sexual content. There is no attempt to hide the fact that Charlie and Emily are having a sexual relationship; they even discuss the possibility that she may have gotten pregnant. Charlie's friend Bus seemingly has a different woman in his bed every night (one of whom is played by Judy Carne). Even so, the film's most revolutionary aspect is its treatment of war and its willingness to have as its protagonist an unapologetic coward. Paddy Chayefsky' script is adapted from a novel by William Bradford Huie, but the screenplay is markedly different than the book and Chayefsky's imprint is unmistakable.While all of the performances are excellent, The Americanization of Emily would not work as well as it does were it not for the wonderful chemistry between James Garner and Julie Andrews. They immediately became good friends, and that friendship continues to this day (Andrews wrote the introduction to Garner's autobiography, "The Garner Files"). "Emily," writes Garner, "is my favorite film that I've ever seen or been involved in, and Charlie Madison is my favorite character, probably because I share his views." For her part, Andrews writes that "We both admired the brilliant screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, and to this day we agree that it was one of our favorite movies to make."Watching The Americanization of Emily reminded me of the story of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was captured during the early days of the Iraq War and was trumpeted as a hero by the Pentagon and a willing media. It seemed that the Pentagon, much like Admiral Jessup in the film, decided that America needed a hero and Lynch was chosen to fill the bill. To her credit, she rejected most of the praise which was heaped upon her, saying "That wasn't me. I'm not about to take credit for something I didn't do... I'm just a survivor." Charlie Madison reminds me of Jessica Lynch, but only to the extent that they found themselves in similar situations. As you will see, Charlie Madison is no Jessica Lynch.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
The 1.85:1 1080p image is encoded with the AVC codec and it looks very, very good. The black and white image is sharp and highly detailed. Film grain has been retained to give it a very natural, film-like appearance. Contrast is excellent, black levels are fine, and shadow detail is very good. I noticed one brief instance where a shot of James Garner is a bit soft, but I suspect that is a function of the source material. Philip Lathrop's superb cinematography was nominated for an Academy Award. Overall this is a very pleasing Blu-ray transfer.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The packaging says that the audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, but in fact it is lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. The dialogue is confined to the center channel, but stereo separation is evident in Johnny Mandel's score, during a scene of heavy rainfall, and of course during the D-Day invasion. The title song, "Emily," was composed by Mandel and has lyrics by Johnny Mercer, but director Hiller was unable to find a way to incorporate the full song into the film, so only an instrumental version is heard. The song was recorded by Frank Sinatra and was included on an album of his, “Softly, As I Leave You,” which was released in 1964.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The primary extra is a commentary track by director Arthur Hiller, which is interesting but loses steam during the latter part of the movie. Hiller demonstrates high regard for screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, calling him "a genius."A six-minute black & white featurette, "Action on the Beach," is an informative look at how the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach was re-created on a beach near Oxnard, California. Garner actually cracked two ribs while filming the scene.The original theatrical trailer is included, and it is in very good shape.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
The one unresolved question I have about this release is the running time, which is 115 minutes. At least two sources which I have consulted list a running time of 117 minutes, including Bosley Crowther's review in the New York Times. I did not see the film during its theatrical run, but if any readers know if something is missing, please chime in.Regardless, The Americanization of Emily is a wonderful film which boasts excellent acting, a brilliant script, and beautiful black & white cinematography. It is a welcome addition to Warner Archive's Blu-ray releases of catalog titles.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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