The Americanization Of Emily

The Americanization Of Emily (1964)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Melvyn Douglas
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Trailer

"The first dead man on Omaha beach must be a sailor", Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) says with the unmistakable self-assurance that could only come from a very sick mind. You see, the Admiral has a few loose screws but that has not stopped him from being very creative. He has come up with a master plan in which a highly qualified Navy Officer will be lucky enough to become the first American to die on D-Day. Unfortunately for Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison (James Garner), he is the chosen lamb for the sacrifice, but he is not sure if he wants to accept the honor of dying for the country and the glory of the Navy. And that, as they say, is the beginning of "The Americanization of Emily", a wickedly funny wartime satire that manages to be an intelligent and very, very funny film. Warner releases the film as part of their Controversial Classics Series.

"The Americanization of Emily" is an irreverent satire on American patriotism. It contains controversial and potentially touchy subject matter that raised a lot of eyebrows back in 1964 and will probably offend a lot of people living in a post 9/11 world. The film is a witty, marvelously ornery take on many things that are held in high esteem in America. Blind patriotism is the main target of the story, but along the way, the filmmakers make sure to slaughter more than a few sacred cows. The movie often resembles another great wartime satire, Preston Sturges’ exceptionally well-made "Hail the Conquering Hero", and one could argue that "The Americanization of Emily" also anticipates the zany and popular "M*A*S*H" (Altman’s film and TV series).

"The Americanization of Emily" was written by Paddy Chayefsky, the man behind films like "Network" and "The Hospital". Anyone familiar with those movies and/or Chayefsky’s work, knows that this acclaimed writer has a terrific way of making fun of the most serious situation, without ever resorting to obvious, tacky jokes. "The Americanization of Emily" is perhaps Chayefsky’s most audacious work, and his screenplay is effectively interpreted by director Arthur Hill. Also, the film is enthusiastically performed by a great ensemble cast. James Garner is very funny in the leading role and his partner in crime Julie Andrews, who projects the right combination of aloofness and cynicism. Melvyn Douglas is a hoot as the crazy Admiral, and James Coburn steals every scene he is in as Garner’s party-animal friend. If you like films like Stanley Kubrick’s "Dr. Strangelove", you will enjoy this film.

"The Americanization of Emily" is presented in a 1.78:1 <$PS,widescreen> format, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. This is an unexpectedly good (at times great) transfer, with very few noticeable visual imperfections. Usually, as a reviewer, one is forced to be a little less critical with a transfer this old, but those special considerations don’t need to be applied to this transfer – from beginning to end the quality of the image is consistently good. Contrasts (certainly the most important aspect of a black & white film), are well accomplished, giving the film the visual clarity that many key moments demand. Blacks are robust and whites are beautifully rendered. The transfer looks extremely clean; one can hardly see any of those tiny visual distractions like dust and debris. This is a wonderful-looking transfer that succeeds in the preserving the great original visual qualities of the film in the best possible manner.

"The Americanization of Emily" is released on DVD with DD 2.0 track. Since this is an older film, one cannot fault the studio for presenting the movie with a very average sound track. The track does not offer any dynamic range, but it has been recreated in a faithful manner, which will help modern viewers understand how the movie was experienced back in 1964. Sonic distortions or/and anomalies are pretty much completely absent from the track. The important thing here is that the dialogue is presented in a clear manner.

The disc’s most important extra feature is a very interesting <$commentary,audio commentary> with Film Historian Drew Casper. Since the film deals with many serious issues, it is important to know the historical context in which the film was created. Mr. Casper’s not only talk about the actual filming of this production, but he also discusses some of the controversial ideas that the film presents. It is a very informative commentary that complements the feature film very well.

"Action on the Beach" is a featurette that was filmed back in 1964 and was used to promote the film. Like any promotional material, this short documentary tries hard (sometimes too hard), to sell the film to the audience.

Wrapping up the supplements is the film’s original Theatrical Trailer. It is in relatively good condition, and one can see how the produces of the film were eager to reinforce the satirical tone of the film.

"The Americanization of Emily" is released on DVD for the very first time, and this new video presentation gives viewers a new opportunity to evaluate this controversial film. Obviously, modern sensibilities are going to play an important part on how well one responds to the film. However, I think the film holds up pretty well, and potentially offensive issues aside, this is a strong movie with a powerful message about war, patriotism and heroism in America.