The Americanization of Emily (1964) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

As the U.S. Navy competed for funding with the other services, a deranged Admiral conceived of a way in which the navy could promote its case visibly - to have a swabbie be the first man to storm the beach on D-Day, and to have a film crew recording it for posterity, hoping to produce a memorable image like the famous Iwo Jima photograph. The man might ultimately be memorialized in something like the "tomb of the unknown sailor."

Jim Garner plays his typical role as the world's biggest coward, but he is somehow chosen to lead the project with a camera on his shoulder, and fate strikes the final blow against him when an explosion near a landing craft hurtles him through the air, vaulting him ahead of the waders, and making him the very first American on Omaha Beach. He then becomes the very first dead American in the invasion, strengthens the navy's credibility, and lands himself on the cover of Life Magazine and 200 newspapers. The Navy's publicist (James Coburn) fails to mention that Garner was running in the wrong direction at the time - back out to sea - and that Garner's first wound was inflicted by Coburn's gun. Hey, it was the only way to get the guy back on the beach.

Garner later turns out to have been wounded, not killed, and this turns out to be a crisis for the Navy. Will Garner tell the truth about the incident, or will be pretend to be a hero for the good of ... ??

The Americanization of Emily is an odd footnote in the history of films. Although this is arguably the greatest script ever written by a three-time Oscar winner (Paddy Cheyefsky), and is probably the greatest film ever directed by film veteran Arthur Hiller, it has passed into obscurity.

Why? Well, timing is everything.

First of all, it's an anti-war comedy which got shunted aside by being released in the same year as the greatest anti-war comedy ever made (Dr. Strangelove).

Second, it made irreverent fun of the wrong war. If it had gone after the Cold War or the Korean War, or if it had come out five years later and had gone after the Vietnam War, it might be remembered as a classic. Unfortunately, it not only went after the hallowed ground of Omaha Beach, but it did so in 1964, when the men who stormed that beach were still only in their forties, some even in their thirties. The film ridiculed the pervasive glorification of war, and perhaps justly so, but many felt, and many still feel, that WW2 is one war that really should have been glorified.  If The Americanization of Emily had been true, or even if it had been mostly true, it would be possible to defend it vigorously as a story that needs to be known. But it is not true. It is entirely fictional and uses the Normandy Invasion as a backdrop for contrived farce. Even after all these years, my subconscious still wants that day and that war to be sacrosanct, a just campaign of appropriate response to unavoidable fascist aggression. Frankly, it's hard for me to accept D-Day as a wacky setting for comedy, although I can force those feelings into a deeper recess of my brain and appreciate the brilliance of this script, which is deeply cynical and highly intelligent, as Chayefsky's work usually is.

The only real objective weakness of the film is the same weakness you will find in every one of Chayefsky's plays and screenplays - his characters make long, unrealistic, cock-sure speeches; or engage in dialogue too witty and clever to be anything but the contrived words of a playwright. It's usually witty material, often brilliant and original, but obviously phony. That always lends Chayefsky's work an artificial quality, as if the characters were stand-up comics waiting to deliver polished monologues, or comedy teams waiting to deliver some rehearsed and flawlessly timed nightclub rapport. It's my belief that the staginess of the dialogue isn't as oppressive in this film as in some of Chayefsky's projects. More rhetorical actors like George C. Scott, Faye Dunaway, and Peter Finch have had problems with Chayefsky's words in various other films, often sounding like participants in high school oratory contests, but Jim Garner has a kind of down-to-earth familiarity that breathes some life into the dialogue and makes it seem more like extemporaneous human speech.



  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Full-length commentary by a film historian. (Sorry, I didn't have time to review it.)
  • A featurette about the recreation of the D-Day landing
  • Widescreen, but letterboxed, not anamorphically enhanced




The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for two Oscars (black-and-white cinematography and art direction)

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, an undeservedly forgotten film which will probably remain forgotten, at least until the landing on Omaha Beach seems a lot funnier.

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