Actor James Garner has died at 86, known primarily for a brilliant television career highlighted by Maverick and The Rockford Files. Yet Garner was also a fine movie actor, and starred in an oft overlooked masterpiece, the 1964 The Americanization of Emily. Set in England just before the D-Day invasion, The Americanization of Emily is a biting satire and one of the great anti-war movies. James Garner plays an admiral’s staff officer charged with procuring luxury goods and willing English women for the brass. Julie Andrews plays an English driver who has lost her husband and other male family members in the War. She resists emotional entanglements with other servicemen whose lives may be put at risk, but falls for Garner’s “practicing coward”, a man who is under no illusions about the glory of war and is determined to stay as far from combat as possible.
Unfortunately, Garner’s boss (Melvyn Douglas) has fits of derangement and becomes obsessed with the hope that the first American killed on the beach at D-Day be from the Navy. Accordingly, he orders Garner to lead a suicide mission to land ahead of the D-Day landing, ostensibly to film it. Fellow officer James Coburn must guarantee Garner’s martyrdom.
It’s a brilliant screenplay from Paddy Chayefsky, who won screenwriting Oscars for Marty, The Hospital and Network. Today, Americanization holds up as least as well as its contemporary Dr. Strangelove and much better than Failsafe.
Almost twenty years later, Garner reteamed with Julie Andrews in one of the all time great comedies, Victor/Victoria. However, both Andrews and Garner have tagged The Americanization of Emily as their favorite film.
The Americanization of Emily is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video. It also plays several times each year on Turner Classic Movies and is next scheduled for September 24.