The Americanization of Emily
Every cinephile has a few pet movies that they patiently wait, and pray, to arrive on DVD. For this reviewer, The Americanization of Emily (1964) is at the top of that list and, if the commentary on this disc by director Arthur Hiller is to be believed, it's his favorite of his own films, the favorite of stars James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn, and one of the favorites of screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky ("The only genius I ever worked with," Hiller calls him). Emily is a satiric, romantic, black comedy about an American "dog-robber" (procurement specialist) named Charlie Madison, a Sgt. Bilko-like officer acquiring booze, broads, and gourmet treats for his American Navy general boss overseas in 1944. Andrews plays a lovely war widow, Emily Barham, working as a military driver in war-torn London, deeply committed to the war effort that's taken the lives of both her father and husband. When she meets Charlie, a proud coward who happily avoids anything close to combat, she has nothing but disdain for him. But as their attraction turns to love, she begins to understand his point of view that there's nothing noble in dying, and the romanticizing of war only leads to more death. The blacker comedic aspects come into play when Charlie's commanding officer has a nervous breakdown and assigns Charlie to lead a film unit that will document the D-Day landing at Normandy necessitating Charlie not only going into the war zone, but being one of the first off the boat. There is simply no area in which The Americanization of Emily is not superior as an anti-war film, it's strikingly modern, and the satire is viciously pointed in classic Chayevsky fashion (he and Hiller would work together again a decade later on the brilliant George C. Scott film The Hospital). As a romance, it's sexy and deeply touching. And as a comedy, it's very, very funny. A surprisingly underseen film (it's listed as one of The New York Times' 1,000 Best Films, yet movie lovers consistently draw a blank when the title is mentioned), this is an absolute must-see picture and an essential for any respectable DVD collection. Warner Home Video's DVD release part of their "Controversial Classics Collection" offers a very good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that's a bit soft with adequate contrast it could have been better, but it's still pretty good. The DD 2.0 and 5.1 audio options are both excellent this is a dialogue-driven film (despite having a battle scene towards the end), and the audio is more than adequate to presenting Chayevsky's marvelous words and Johnny Mandel's lovely score. Extras include a terrific commentary track by Hiller (despite it being erroneously listed on the packaging as by Drew Casper) which, while not being at all scene-specific, is loving and detailed and completely enthralling. There's also a promo featurette, "Action on the Beach" (6 min.), made to promote the movie and offering an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of the D-Day invasion on a California beach. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
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