Friday, July 22, 2005

DVD FRIDAY: The Americanization of Emily

Of all the movies he made, James Garner said this was his favorite. So did Julie Andrews, his co-star. So did James Coburn, who had a more prominent role in many other films than he did in this one.

It was producer Martin Ransohoff's favorite of his movies, and Arthur Hiller's favorite of the many movies he directed. Script writer Paddy Chayevsky, who wrote several classics and an Academy Award winner, said this was one of his two favorite films.

Yet until the newly released DVD, '>The Americanization of Emily had all but disappeared. Perhaps because in many ways it was unclassifiable: a romantic comedy, a war movie, an anti-war movie, or as director Hiller insists, "an anti-the-glorification-of-war movie."

Made in 1964 in black and white, it may have become overshadowed by other more famous films of that era and that style on something like that theme: "Dr. Strangelove," perhaps even "Fail-Safe." Set in World War II, it was more distanced and with a dryer wit than the anti-war war novel of that time, "Catch-22."

But the new DVD reveals its considerable virtues: the eloquent and characteristically Chayevsky script, the fine, committed performances by Garner, Andrews, Coburn and Melvyn Douglas, among others. The rhythms and fluid camera of Arthur Hiller's first major directing job, that managed to make a single movie out of a unique combination of elements.

Hiller's DVD commentary is a great bonus. Producer Ransohoff bought the William Bradford Huie novel of the same title, which was a pretty straightforward romance about an English girl falling in love with an American soldier stationed in England during World War II. At some point he got the idea of asking Chayevsky to write it. Chayevsky flew from New York to Hollywood, and told Ransohoff it really wasn't for him. But on his flight back he thought of a way to do it, and called Ransohoff, explained this very different approach of making the hero a selfish sensualist who despises wartime heroics, but winds up being an accidental hero himself. For some reason, Ransohoff liked it.

Various directors and actors were attached to the project---at one point William Holden was the lead, and James Garner was to play his friend. When Holden dropped out, Garner moved up, and Coburn was added (possibly at the behest of Garner.)
Julie Andrews hadn't done a major movie yet---but she went from this one directly to making "Mary Poppins."

Arthur Hiller was a young and untested director, who got the job when better known directors turned it down. He was pretty nervy for a kid. He insisted on making it in black and white, which the studio opposed, since color films made more money. He set up shots so they were done without cuts, so the studio could slice and dice his film.

Later, Hiller recounts, Ted Turner bought the TV rights and colorized it. Hiller protested loud and long, as did other directors and film buffs. Eventually Turner listened and not only stopped colorizing, he joined Hiller in leading new efforts to preserve America's movie heritage by restoring and preserving endangered films.

This is a quirky, sometimes unsettling but often surprising and always entertaining movie, a real DVD treasure for your weekend viewing.

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