Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Yanks (1979)

In 1957 Robert Wise's UNTIL THEY SAIL looked at the American "invasion" of New Zealand during World War II, including the romantic relationships which developed between local women and American soldiers.

Over two decades later the similarly themed YANKS (1979) chronicled life in the north of England as American troops amassed prior to D-Day. The film largely centers on a quiet young soldier, Matt Dyson (Richard Gere), who falls for Jean (Lisa Eichhorn), a shopkeeper's daughter he meets at the movies. (A fun note: one of my favorite Betty Grable movies, SONG OF THE ISLANDS (1942), plays at the movie theater.)

Jean has an "understanding" with Ken (Derek Thompson), a boy she grew up with and plans to become engaged to on his next leave, yet she can't help her fascination with Matt, a cook who dreams of building a motel chain across his native Arizona.

Will Jean have a life with Ken living above his family business in the town she's always known, or is she destined for an unexpected life as the wife of an American? Jean's ill mother (Rachel Roberts) is upset at the prospect of Ken being hurt and threatened by the idea of her daughter moving far away, yet after Matt comes to tea she has to admit she understands why Jean likes Matt so much.

Matt's friend Danny (Chick Vennera) has an uncomplicated romance with Jean's friend Mollie (Wendy Morgan), and Danny and Mollie quickly marry. Meanwhile, a married American captain (William Devane) has a brief fling with an upper-class woman (Vanessa Redgrave) of the area whose husband is away on duty.

There's a great deal to like about this absorbing film, including appealing performances by Gere and Eichhorn as two shy young people who find each other amidst the chaos of war. I enjoyed the development of their relationship and the portrayal of family life in Jean's village tremendously. The film has many other nice touches, including "I'll Be Seeing You" playing over the end credits.

My main disappointment with the film was its excessive nudity, which seemed unusual even for an R-rated movie. I can't even think of the last time I saw a movie with such protracted scenes, which added nothing important to the film and actually, in the case of Gere and Eichhorn, detracted from the sweet romance depicted to that point. The entire sequence was out of keeping with the way their characters had been developed. I'm a bit of a broken record on this point, but it's a shame when filmmakers don't realize that less is more.

Along similar lines, the relationship of Devane and Redgrave didn't do much for me. I've liked Devane in other shows but here he seems rather awkward and self-conscious opposite Redgrave, in a ladylike Deborah Kerr-type role. (Well, she's ladylike until she decides to have an affair with him...) Fortunately their characters have considerably less screen time than Gere and Eichhorn.

Look for John Ratzenberger in a small role as one of the army cooks! This would have been filmed around the same time he had a bit role in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). The cast also includes Arlen Dean Snyder, Tony Melody, and Martin Smith.

This 138-minute movie was filmed by Dick Bush. John Schlesinger directed.

YANKS is available on a widescreen DVD. There are no extras. The print is attractive, but the sound balancing seemed off at times, with the quiet or heavily accented dialogue drowned out by background noise. Unfortunately there were no subtitles, which I wished I could turn on a couple times just to clarify what someone said.

A postscript: a few weeks ago American actress Lisa Eichhorn, who was cast in the film after convincing the director she was English, returned to England to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the filming of YANKS. Wendy Morgan was also due to attend. Much of the movie was filmed in the town of Stalybridge.

A final note: I've always loved this film's poster! I actually thought for years that I had seen this movie around the time it came out, probably on ONTV -- is the ONTV set-top box a memory for anyone else? -- but little about the movie was familiar, and I discovered it's not in my list of movies seen. Maybe I just saw some clips from it back then...?

Recommended, with reservations.


Blogger Rick said...

I saw YANKS in the theatre when it was new and enjoyed it…pretty much. Obviously it was intended as a vehicle for "new star" Lisa Eichorn. But her career sort of dribbled out. I think the best thing in her filmography is the overlooked CUTTER'S WAY in which she starred opposite Jeff Bridges and John Heard.
About 12 or 15 years after YANKS, I was sitting in a crowded, hot waiting room in a New York City casting office, waiting to audition for a commercial. There were actors of all sizes, ages, and descriptions waiting to enter one of the three different audition rooms. Sitting across from me were two attractive women having a whispered conversation in the middle of the crowd of desperate, struggling actors. They looked familiar to me and, after just a moment I realized I was watching Lisa (YANKS) Eichorn and Candy (AMERICAN GRAFFITI) Clark. Just a couple of working actresses hoping to book a commercial gig.
Obviously neither of their careers soared as they must have once thought they might, but they were both still plugging away at it. Ya gotta admire that.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Rick, that's a wonderful anecdote!! Thanks so much for taking the time to share it, as well as your thoughts on YANKS and Lisa Eichhorn. She was certainly believable as an English girl, despite hailing from New York! I see she played Rachel McAdams' mother recently in ABOUT TIME (2013). I'd like to check that one out.

Best wishes,

10:33 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

ABOUT TIME probably would not be for all tastes, Laura, but my wife and I really enjoyed it (and I suspect you would too). A feelgood film.
Really enjoyed Rick's story there. That brings it all to life for us non-pros.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks much for your feedback on ABOUT TIME, Jerry! As you doubtless realize, I see relatively few "new" films so I'm always glad to have reviews from others with similar tastes to mine.

Best wishes,

3:22 PM  

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