Monday, October 27, 2014

The Transformative Nature of War

"I don't want to know what's good or bad or true. I let God worry about the truth. I just want to know the momentary fact about things. Life isn't good or bad or true. It's merely factual. It's sensual. It's alive. My idea of living sensual facts are you, a home, a country, a world, a universe. In that order. I want to know what I am, not what I should be."

Charlie (James Garner)

The late James Garner said his role in "The Americanization of Emily," which premiered on this date in 1964, was his favorite.

After he died, I asked a couple of people whose opinions about movies I respect which one they would choose as their favorite Garner movie.

One said he would pick 1985's "Murphy's Romance," in which Garner co–starred with Sally Field.

That was a good one, no doubt about it — and it did bring Garner his only Oscar nomination. Personally, I always felt it was a little light. Maybe that was the small–town ambiance.

The other said he would choose 2000's "Space Cowboys," which kind of surprised me. It was a good movie, but I wouldn't choose it over several that Garner made ...

... including "The Americanization of Emily." And I agree with Garner. That's my favorite as well.

Garner played an aide to an admiral (Melvyn Douglas) during World War II. He didn't care for combat — to be blunt about it, he was a coward — so he was sort of waiting out the war. Julie Andrews, the Emily of the title, was his British driver.

Predictably, I suppose, the two fell in love, but Andrews had problems with Garner's gutlessness.

Andrews was appearing in only her second movie. The roles for which she is most remembered — in "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" — came later (although "Mary Poppins" hit the theaters first). Considering her astonishing vocal range, it is surprising that all her earlier roles didn't showcase her singing.

But "The Americanization of Emily" didn't. It asked her to act only. She didn't even get to hum to Garner during one of their love scenes.

And she was believable — as she was whether she was playing Emily or Mary Poppins or Maria von Trapp.

But let's get back to the story.

Douglas' character, mentally unstable since his wife died, obsessed about the upcoming D–Day invasion. He didn't want the Navy to be overshadowed by the Army and Air Corps, and he decided that the first casualty on Omaha Beach had to be a sailor. What is more, he wanted a film crew on the beach to capture it for a documentary about the invasion.

Garner, along with his zealous buddy (played by James Coburn), drew the assignment, along with a film crew. Although he tried to retreat at the moment of truth, Garner was forced forward by a gun–wielding Coburn — and wound up becoming the first casualty on Omaha Beach when a German shell landed near him. Or so it appeared.

Andrews was devastated — she had already lost her husband, her brother and her father in the war.

But then, lo and behold, it turned out that Garner was not dead after all.

Andrews was ecstatic. Even Douglas was pleased. He regretted Garner's death and had originally planned to use his death in support of the Navy in upcoming testimony before a Senate committee; relieved that Garner wasn't dead after all, Douglas decided to present him as a hero to the Senate committee.

Garner was going to be noble and tell the world what really happened — at the risk of being imprisoned for cowardice. Andrews, though, persuaded him to keep quiet and choose a future with her.

It was an interesting — and unexpected — role reversal at the very end.

"The Americanization of Emily" was nominated for two Oscars — Best Black–and–White Art Direction and Best Black–and–White Cinematography and lost both to "Zorba the Greek."