The Americanization of Emily Blu-ray Review: A Classic Satire of Heroism and War

It's easy to see why James Garner and Julie Andrews each considered this their favorite starring roles.
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The very traits that distinguish your average, everyday coward from that of renowned public hero are split by a very fine line - something Lieutenant Commander Charlie Madison (James Garner) knows only too well. An enlisted Naval officer and practicing coward, Charlie makes his living solely by being a dog-robber for Rear Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) in London during the days just prior to D-Day in World War II. Whatever the officers of merit want, Charlie gets it, even in a city - nay, an entire country - that hasn't seen fresh fruit or Hershey's bars in years.

Food, booze, clothing, girls: you name it, Charlie can get it, for others or for himself. Especially himself, since he's only in the war for his own selfish, cowardly, greedy reasons.

Yet, despite a hotel room stocked with supplies from all over the world - just waiting to be traded away for the acquirement of something else - there's one thing our anti-hero (in one sense of the word or another) Charlie doesn't have, and that's a girl for himself. But that all changes when Charlie's rear-slapping, greedy, selfish, cowardly antics clash with the morals of that of a prudish motor pool driver, Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), who has lost not only a father, brother, and various other cousins (of which there are only about two now remaining) in the war, but also her husband. Since then, she has made a morbid habit of falling in love with men who are most certainly headed back to the front in order to die.

Naturally, that's a combination that is simply destined to fall in love. And they do. And poor Emily even starts to see her own stiff-upper-lip British ideals twisted by Charlie's dementedly logical philosophy. But when Rear Admiral Jessup begins to crack under the pressure of having to validate the Navy's whole use (not only in the war, but in-general), he winds up scheming a bizarre project to film the entire Invasion of Normandy, determined to make sure the first to die is a sailor. And guess which poor, cynical, cowardly bastard gets selected to first make the propaganda piece, then get forced to "star" in it?

Loosely adapted from the William Bradford Huie novel of the same name, by future Network writer Paddy Chayefsky, The Americanization of Emily is a wacky, often-dark look at what defines a hero. It was nominated for several BAFTA awards (one of which was won by Julie Andrews), and has been said to be a favorite project for not only director Arthur Hiller, but his lead performers as well. The satire also stars the great James Coburn as Garner's best friend, William Windom, Douglas Henderson (who probably gets the most screen time out of his entire filmography here), and the marvelous extended cameo pairing of Keenan ("You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company") Wynn and Steve Franken as two drunken sailors who are asked to work as cameramen on Omaha Beach.

With the original standard DVD release of The Americanization of Emily having been out of print for some time now, a Manufactured-on-Demand Blu-ray release made available by the Warner Archive Collection is a blessing indeed. Not only do we get a dynamic video presentation - one that aptly shows off Philip Lathrop's excellent black-and-white cinematography - but a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track (and nice big English subtitles, too). The MOD Blu-ray also carries with it all of the extras from the 2005 DVD, including a (rather dry) commentary by director Hiller, a vintage behind-the-scenes piece highlighting the recreation of Omaha Beach, and the original theatrical trailer.

Recommended (and definitely worth the upgrade if you already own the old DVD).

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