The Americanization of Emily Reviews
This one of the most startlingly cynical films about war imaginable, more than I would have ever expected from 1964. But I shouldn't be surprised - there was far less mythmaking then. The country had millions of WW II veterans, who not only knew about war, but knew about the bullshit associated with war and military service. They made a bestseller out of this novel, and made this a hit movie. My dad was one of them, and he loved films that belittled the glories of war. This film could never be made today. A dramedy about a sailor who believes in the church of cowardice? Who blames war on ordinary people who insist on hero-worship, thus inspiring generation after generation to aspire to martyrdom? Absolutely unthinkable.
Francois Truffaut allegedly claimed that there could never be a true anti-war film. This movie stands as a testament against that notion. There's a scene early on where Lt. Cmdr Madison (James Garner, in his favorite role) is having tea with his new girlfriend Emily (Julie Andrews) and her mother (Joyce Grenfell). It's brutal, and left my jaw hanging. When it starts, the mother is still delusional, believing her husband, son and son-in-law are still alive, when they've all been killed by the war in some fashion. By the end, Garner has destroyed her protective self-deception with spectacular speech making, as only the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky could have written. A mere portion:
"I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the general with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is. It's always the war widows who lead the Memorial Day parades...We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on the ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogeys. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers. The rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow's weeds like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices."
Julie Andrews eventually adopts much of his attitude, and later in the film there is this exchange:
Mrs. Barham: ...They're going to put up a monument on his grave.
Emily Barham: What on earth for? All he did was die. Dear me, we shall be celebrating cancer and automobile smash-ups next.
Lt. Cmdr. 'Bus' Cummings: [fervently] He didn't just die, Emily. He sacrificed his life.
Mrs. Barham: That was very pagan of him.
Lt. Cmdr. 'Bus' Cummings: He was the first American to die on Omaha Beach.
Emily Barham: Was there a contest?
Try to present that kind of dialogue today in a movie. Not happening, even though WW II was a far more righteous fight than any conflict since then. If we don't stop glorifying military service after thousands of veteran suicides, we never will. But don't forget to stand and applaud during the Memorial Day parade when the veterans march by, in between the Shriner clowns and the local girl's dance ballet troupe. You'll put a smile on the face of whoever is planning the next war.
the hypocrisies we somehow, all of us, maintain and hold up, as we make our way in a world that we often have little control of except for our little corner in time and space, and sometimes not even that?
It's a sharp film, shatply directed, sharply performed.