Americanization of Emily, The (1964): Chayefsky’s Oscar-Nominated WWII Serio-Comedy, Starring Julie Andrews and James Garner

Produced by Martin Ransohoff, the WWII dark satire, The Americanization of Emily was directed by Arthur Hiller, starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, and Melvyn Douglas.

William Holden was originally meant to play the lead role of “Charlie” Madison, and Garner the character of “Bus” Cummings, but Holden backed out, and so Garner got the lead, whiled James Coburn was cast as “Bus.”

Chayefsky’s script is loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie, who was a SeaBee officer during the Normandy Invasion.

The Americanization of Emily
Americanization of Emily poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Set in 1944 London during World War II in the weeks leading up to D-Day, the movie is meant to be a serio comedy, or satire of heroism and cowardice in war times, and the “reality” of making war movies.  But Arthur Hiller proves to be the wrong director, stumbling with giving the saga the right tone and multi-nuanced mood that it needs.  You wonder what Billy Wilder, or Stanley Kubrick for that matter, would have done with such rich and original text.

Lieutenant Commander Charlie Madison (James Garner), United States Naval Reserve, is a cynical and highly efficient adjutant to Rear Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) in London in 1944. Charlie’s job as a dog robber is to keep his boss and other high-ranking officers supplied with luxury goods and amiable Englishwomen. He falls in love with a driver from the motor pool, Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), who has lost her husband, brother, and father in the war. Charlie’s pleasure-seeking “American” lifestyle amid wartime rationing both fascinates and disgusts Emily, but she does not want to lose another loved one to war and finds the “practising coward” Charlie irresistible.

Despondent since the death of his wife, Jessup obsesses over the US Army and its Air Force overshadowing the Navy in the forthcoming D-Day invasion. The mentally unstable admiral decides that “The first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor”. A combat film will document the death, and the casualty will be buried in a “Tomb of the Unknown Sailor”. He orders Charlie to get the film made.

Despite his efforts to avoid the duty, Charlie and gung-ho friend Commander “Bus” Cummings (James Coburn), find themselves and a film crew with the combat engineers, who will be the first sailors ashore.

When Charlie tries to retreat from the beach, the manic Cummings shoots him in the leg with a Colt .45 pistol. A German artillery shell lands near the limping-running Charlie, making him the first American casualty on Omaha Beach. Magazine covers reprint the photo of Charlie running ashore, alone (in reality trying to escape from Cummings), making him a war hero.

Jessup, having recovered from breakdown and horrified by his role in Charlie’s death, now plans to use the heroic death in support of the Navy when testifying before a Senate committee in Washington, D.C.

The unexpected news is that Charlie is not dead, but alive at the Allied 6th relocation center in Southampton, England. A relieved Jessup plans to show him off during his Senate testimony as the “first man on Omaha Beach,” a sailor.

Limping from his injury and angry about his senseless near-death, Charlie uncharacteristically plans to act nobly by telling the world the truth about what happened, even if it means being imprisoned for cowardice. By recounting what he had told her previously, Emily persuades Charlie to choose happiness with her, to keep quiet and to accept his role as a hero.

Controversial in its own time, it has since been praised as a classic anti-war film.  Both Garner and Andrews have singled out this movie as one of their personal favorites.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Cinematography (b/w): Philip H. Lathrop

Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): George W. Davis, Hans Peters, and Elliot Scott; Henry Grace and Robert R. Benton
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
Michael Cacoyannis’s “Zorba the Greek” won the Black and white Cinematography and Art Direction Oscars.

James Garner as Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Charlie” E. Madison
Julie Andrews as Emily Barham
Melvyn Douglas as Admiral William Jessup
Paul Newlan as Gen. William Hallerton
James Coburn as Lt. Cmdr. Paul “Bus” Cummings
Joyce Grenfell as Mrs. Barham
Keenan Wynn as Old Sailor
Edward Binns as Admiral Thomas Healy
Liz Fraser as Sheila
William Windom as Captain Harry Spaulding
John Crawford as Chief Petty Officer Paul Adams
Douglas Henderson as Captain Marvin Ellender
Edmon Ryan as Admiral Hoyle
Steve Franken as Young Sailor
Alan Sues as Petty Officer Enright
Judy Carne as “2nd Nameless Broad”
Sharon Tate as “Beautiful Girl” (uncredited)


Directed by Arthur Hiller
Produced by Martin Ransohoff
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
Based on The Americanization of Emily
by William Bradford Huie
Music by Johnny Mandel
Cinematography Philip H. Lathrop
Edited by Tom McAdoo

Production company: Filmways

Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: October 27, 1964 (US); April 15, 1965 (UK)

Running time: 115 minutes
Budget $2.7 million
Box office $4,000,000 (rentals)