The Americanization of Emily (1964)

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“Don’t show me how profitable it will be to fall in love with you, Charlie. Don’t Americanize me.” – Julie Andrews as Emily

Yes, Kubrick’s film is definitive. Though something inside of me wants to rale against convention and wave the flag for The Americanization of Emily instead, a movie that came out the same year as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and could probably use the acknowledgment. While not technically as renowned — Arthur Hiller is no Stanley Kubrick — this is probably the director’s best work and we do have a script by Paddy Chayefsky, the man famed for penning everything from Marty (1955) to Network (1976).

Our stars are to die for in James Garner and Julie Andrews while in its satirical bleakness, the movie predates the absurdity of Mike Nichol’s Catch-22 (1970) adaptation or Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). At any rate, it deserves a place in the conversation among the seminal anti-war statements of the 20th century.

Though Chayefsky can get verbose with his quill, it’s all quite eloquent; between the stars and the dilemma they find themselves in, the resonance of The Americanization of Emily cannot be overstated. It starts with of all things a “Dog-Robber,” the pet name and vernacular shorthand used for personal assistants of military big wigs.

Garner always the conman, grifter, or otherwise likable trickster, is seamlessly fit to play Charlie Madison, a rapscallion who is also very good at his line of work. As right-hand man to Rear Admiral Jessup (Melvyn Douglas), Charlie is tasked with laying out the red carpet for his superior, charming and cajoling his way to get the best of the best. That means the finest food and the most charming female company that wartime Britain has to offer.

A couple of the assumed premises of the picture are troubling, starting with the prevalence of what can only be termed “tush slaps” of nearly every female attendant. Nearly everyone seems to enjoy the attention. The second is how the war takes a back seat as does the fact, despite Man being infallible and the reasons for war being muddied, Hitler was seemingly a power that necessitated some counteraction. For that matter, D-Day feels like it’s an open secret among every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

But this is all part of the groundwork which all comes into relief as we begin to visualize the story. Consequently, it doesn’t much feel like a bombed out or rationed Great Britain at any point in time. There’s little need for historical accuracy — the trail of a cynical war comedy with all its biting fury is what’s most importantly on display.

After getting off on the wrong foot, Charlie and his assigned chauffeur Emily (Andrew) joust a bit only to fall into each other’s arms. She brings him over to tea with mother and there he sees the shrine to all the deceased war heroes in their family (a lah Hail the Conquering Hero). Except Charlie sets the record straight on what he thinks of war and how other people go about it. Some might consider him callous but the way he sees it, being brutally honest, in such a case, is the most humane thing to do.

Mrs. Barnham has long been pressing on in life as if her son was still alive. However, Charlie brings the tea conversation to the cold hard facts. In his estimation, it’s the most profane thing in the world to enjoy war. Enjoyment in the same sense that he sees grieving as a sensual thing for a woman — when she can mourn her husband who gave his life so gallantly for his country. He doesn’t see anything noble about needlessly making heroes of our dead, venerating them, instead of allowing them to rest in peace.

When probed about his religious views, he retorts quite blatantly he’s “a practicing coward.” He learned it in Guadalcanal in the midst of buddies dropping all around him. “Wars are the only time a man can be gallant and redeemed. Wars are always fought for goodness, except virtue is so unnatural to us. God save us all from people doing the morally right thing.” These are little nuggets of wisdom he drops.

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The complete absurdity of it all comes into focus when his commanding officer cooks up a cockamamie plan to shoot a movie during the storming of Normandy to capture the first dead man on the beach — who will obviously be a sailor — proving to the world that the Navy is just as important as anyone else. They know he’s really flipped when Admiral Jessup dreams up the Tomb for the Unknown Sailor too.

Still, no one has the gumption to disobey so Charlie’s buddy Bus (James Coburn) looks to stall operations as long as possible and yet, in the end, they find themselves hurtling toward Normandy on an utterly pointless suicide mission. Except Bus gets bitten by the patriotic bug too and goes nutty for his duty with Charlie and his lackluster movie crew hoisted onto the LST like stray cargo. They’re going whether they like it or not.

The comedy is solidified for me in the D-Day sequences as Charlie finds himself dumped out in the ocean, flailing around in the cold, half-heartedly trying to hold onto a camera he doesn’t know how to use, probably already decommissioned by sea water. It’s utterly pointless. Here he is amid the chaos with his former friend goading him on only to wing him with a pistol in the process. Charlie’s left for dead but on the bright side, at least he’s positioned himself as the first casualty on the beaches of Normandy — a navy man, no less.

True to form, the images of him are soon plastered all over every magazine back home. He’s been christened a hero and every type of idolatry he would never care to give anyone else is lofted on him. It’s far from done, rolling over on itself one final time.

There must be continuous punchlines to underscore the sheer looniness of it all. Whereas a picture like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) is bleakly cynical, here James Garner is able to inject his grouchy strain of comedy into the part, aiding the story to its conclusion. But the final zinger goes to Julie Andrews as she is and always will be his equal in the film.

“Honestly, Charlie, your conversion to morality is really quite funny. All this time I’ve been terrified of becoming Americanized, and you, you silly ass, have turned into a bloody Englishman.”

So you see, it might have just as easily been called the Anglification of Charlie. There you have the irony at work again. Somehow it makes sense and it doesn’t at the same time. That’s war in a nutshell.

4/5 Stars

Torn Curtain (1966)

torncurtain1Torn Curtain was Alfred Hitchcock’s fiftieth feature in an illustrious career. Though he was arguably on a slow decline, the film still channels the Cold War sentiment and the age of the spy thriller, while taking hold of the director’s fascination in the everyman.  The storyline unwinds as Professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and his assistant and wife-to-be Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) are rubbing noses with the best and the brightest physicists in Denmark.  However, unbeknownst to lovely sweetheart, the young professor is looking to defect and live behind the iron curtain. For Armstrong, it’s something that has to be done to gain some vital information from the communists, but for her part, Ms. Sherman does not understand what is going on and so she decides to follow her love who all too quickly began to give her the cold shoulder. But of course, things in a Hitchcock film are never cut and dry.

Armstrong tries to gain the confidence of a high-level Communist scientist who can crack the Cold War wide open with a secret formula. This is crucial, acting as the MacGuffin, a storytelling device Hitchcock used in many of his films, its only purpose being to move the plot forward. Thus, Susan finds out eventually that her fiancée is no traitor, but out of that comes the perilous prospect of getting out of the country. In the end, Newman and Andrews get away and live happily ever after. Like his previous work in North by Northwest, Hitchcock’s focus once more is on your average individual. The difference here is that instead of getting the spy life thrust upon him in middle America, the protagonist willingly dives headfirst into the world of espionage by readily going behind the lines of the Iron Curtain.

The reasons Torn Curtain slightly pales in comparison with his past works has numerous sources. In truth, he came from an earlier age of filmmakers perfectly at home in Classical Hollywood, except it appeared like the days of his rule might be coming to an end.  It was his impetus to make a Cold War thriller, but it was the studio who supplied the stars and ultimately led him to cut ties with one of his greatest collaborators Bernard Hermann. To make matter worse, Hitchcock was completely disgruntled by Paul Newman’s abrasive style. The director was bred during an earlier age, while Newman was a brash young product of Method Acting. Whereas Hitch had wanted to bring back his longtime cohort Cary Grant with a role for Eva Marie Sainte, he was handed two younger stars in high demand. As such, they did not seem to fit with his usual sensibilities, and it truly did seem to suggest that he could not quite change with the times. Although his leads were certainly not his perfect match, being the creative force that he was, Hitchcock interestingly enough counterbalances his stars with a wide array of foreign supporting players. To the American eye, they were nobodies, but when given interesting roles to inhabit they help to give added texture to this Cold War world created on the Universal backlot. It truly is a lusciously constructed façade, although all the pieces do not fit quite so well this time around.

torncurtain2However, when you watch any Hitchcock film you do wait to be dazzled with some twist or trick because he was always one to bring humor and fascinating aesthetic qualities into his films. Torn Curtain has a few such moments that quickly come to mind. The most prominent has to do with the editing of the sequence in the farmhouse. It is here where Gromek is murdered by Armstrong and the housewife, but it is cut in such a fascinating way.  It contrasts with Psycho’s shower sequence quite easily as they try and murder him first by strangling and then anything they can get a hold of whether it’s guns, knives, shovels. There is no score to speak of. Soon it becomes a methodical rhythm of cutting between contorted faces as they slowly but surely move towards the stove. The brutality and length of the ordeal suggest how ugly and laborious it is to kill a man. Hitchcock certainly does not glorify it in any sense.

3/5 Stars

The Sound of Music (1965)

88ab0-sound_of_musicI would like to dedicate this post to my sister since this is her favorite movie !
Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, this musical follows a light-hearted nun who becomes the governess for the seven children of a widowed Austrian naval captain. When she first meets the children they are hostile towards her but they quickly become fond of Maria. However, when the captain gets wind of their adventures he is angry. Initially Maria is sent away but then the captain has a change of heart. After an evening full of fun, Maria is sent off this time by a jealous baroness. She returns later on the urging of a nun and Von Trapp then realizes his true love for Maria. However, everything is not well as the Von Trapps get ready for the Salzburg Music Festival since the Nazis are on the rise. With a little kindly help they are able to make their getaway in the end. I have to say that this is not one of my favorite films but the soundtrack is one of the most memorable of all time and Andrew’s voice is truly beautiful.

                                                               4.5/5 Stars

Mary Poppins (1964)

4635e-marypoppinsStarring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, this Disney musical permeates joy and acts as a window to enchantment. Mary Poppins is a practically perfect nanny who begins to take care of two children. They grow fond of her when she helps them clean their room, takes them through a chalk drawing, and above all sings to them. Through their adventures they meet the Chimney sweep Burt (Van Dyke). However, their actions also cause their father to lose his job. However, as Mary had planned they grow closer to their parents as Mary herself moves on. This film is full of delightful characters, funny quips, and memorable tunes. Disney put together a nice production of animation, choreography, and of course singing. Get ready for some supercalifragiliticexpialidocious (Please don’t check my spelling here)!

4.5/5 Stars