Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Americanization of Emily (1964) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

James Garner and Julie Andrews star in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964), recently released in an absolutely gorgeous Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

The shimmering black and white images of longtime favorites James Garner and Julie Andrews are a fond memory from seeing the movie at the Filmex festival, held at the Plitt Theaters in Century City years ago. Filmex died out decades ago and the Plitt Theaters are gone too, but Garner and Andrews have never looked better than they do on the new Blu-ray. They, and the disc, are simply beautiful.

Alas, the movie itself proved to be one of those occasions when revisiting something years later is an unexpected letdown. This tale of a "coward" during World War II, who inadvertently becomes a hero on D-Day, has become terribly dated -- not in the '40s, when it's supposedly set, but instead the film is completely mired in the '60s.

Now, a dated movie is not a bad thing in and of itself. I actually love being able to revisit an era through such movies, which provide valuable snapshots in time. The only problem is that I wanted to see a film set in the '40s yet found myself thoroughly stuck in 1964.

Everything about the movie screams 1960s, from the bubble hairstyles to the evening gowns to the attitudes. There's not a bit of music or really much of anything to plant the film in 1944. I don't know why WWII films made in the '60s were so resistant to portraying period hairstyles, but people who lived through WWII wouldn't be able to guess the era watching films such as this or THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969). It's also completely confusing to the modern-day viewer.

Garner is absolutely adorable and has super-hot chemistry with Andrews; their flinty central romance still rings true, as does their fight in the rain, but nothing else about the film does.

The script is talky and self-important, supposedly being wiser about World War II and war in general two decades on. The tragedy of a military commander (Melvyn Douglas) having a mental crackup being played for laughs didn't sit well either. Supposedly the film is a black comedy commenting on things like poor leadership and false heroism, but the ability to make any valid points goes out the window when the admiral giving the silliest commands is mentally ill.

Speaking of mental crackups, how is it that Andrews' mother (Joyce Grenfell) can suddenly snap back to reality and acknowledge the deaths of her husband and son after years of denial? That "instant recovery" sequence felt false in psychological terms.

No one loves and admires Garner and Andrews more than I do, and this was not the review I expected to write. Nonetheless, I have to call 'em as I see 'em. Mine is certainly a minority take on the film, so potential viewers should by all means see the movie and assess it for themselves. If nothing else, there's considerable pleasure simply enjoying the company of the two lead actors looking fantastic on this sharp-looking black and white Blu-ray.

The film was directed by Arthur Hiller from a script by Paddy Chayefsky. It was beautifully shot by Philip Lathrop. The running time is 115 minutes.

The supporting cast includes James Coburn, Edward Binns, Keenan Wynn, William Windom, and Liz Fraser.

The Blu-ray contains a nice selection of extras, including a commentary by Hiller, a featurette, and a trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


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