Blog 01/20/2021 - MHT Movie Review - Garner D-Day Doubleheader

MHT Movie Review: The James Garner 1964 D-Day Doubleheader:

Our first film is “The Americanization of Emily” Garner plays LCDR Charlie Madison, US Navy, a legendary WWII “Dog-Robber” a term for a General’s or in this case Admiral’s junior aide who during WWII was a combo batman and scrounger to make sure his General Officer uniforms were well maintained and he has the creature comforts afforded his position of being well fed, well housed and if required well accompanied by the opposite sex.

Garner basically plays the character that made him famous Bret Maverick, a charming scoundrel in a Navy Uniform. His room is a dog-robbers arsenal filled with Hershey chocolate bars, perfumes, razors, soap, cigarettes, cigars, American booze, French Champagne, nylons, ladies’ nylons, lingerie & gowns to barter with. He had been a Washington DC Concierge but in a patriotic rush enlisted in the Marines and went ashore into the Japanese infested jungles of Guadalcanal convincing him he was no hero and needed rescue. He has his past connections to Admiral Jessup (masterful Melvyn Douglas) to pull him back to Washington and make him an officer, so his loyalty is complete and he excels at his job so much so his Admiral’s dinner parties exceed even the Supreme Commander Ike’s.

The meet cute is Garner being assigned a new English female military driver Emily Barham (Julie Andrews who takes the role in between two other films you may have heard of Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music) a war widow who married three days before her husband shipped off for Africa & his end at the hands  of Rommel’s Afrika Korps at Tobruk . She finds the avowed “coward” who left the Pacific War for a safe aide’s billet & American wheeler-dealer Garner repulsive but having lost not only husband but father and brother she is no fan of the war. So, despite herself, stiff upper lip Andrews and the motor pool’s “bloody virgin goddess” finds herself falling into his bed and love with him. There's is one rocky romance.

Beneath all the dark comedy revolving around the scheming around a D-Day movie by Garner to stay as far away from the battlefield as possible are some profound statements about the futility of war and the military politics in Washington in fighting this particular war. The two leads are excellent, maybe their best acting as Garner evolves from his “Maverick” charming persona and Andrews can’t just break into song to express her feelings. They get good support from the supporting cast consisting of James Coburn, William Windom and Joyce Grenfell as Andrews mother. One of the best sequences involves two sailors, the always superb Keenan Wynn and comic character actor Steve Franken who get assigned to Garner’s team. The three of them get falling down drunk and only Coburn who until the movie’s last half hour has focused on the women of London as seen by his no longer politically correct “three nameless broads” romances policies all three sailors up and they get underway.

I can't give the ending away, but let's say that Garner will have his words thrown back at him by Andrews that he's not interested in some great philosophical truth, just the momentary fact of things. He and Julie Andrews together are what counts most.
Interestingly, one of the great things this film had going for it was that Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer wrote the title song “Emily.” They were the “it” combination of movie song writers in the 60’s, having produced the previous two Oscar winners “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” However, it couldn’t win because it wasn’t sung in the movie but Frank Sinatra had a hit on his hands by releasing his version first. Jack Jones, Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand and Andy Williams are some of the other recording artists who have done a version. MHT gives it 4 Stars and it would have been 4½  if Julie had broken into song to the tune “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” with the alternate lyrics “A chocolate bar & some nylons make the war go round.” 

The second 1964 D-Day film was “36 Hours”, a psychological thriller as Garner plays American Army Intelligence Officer, Major Jeff Pike who has detailed knowledge of Operation Overlord the upcoming 1944 landings in Normandy. He heads to Lisbon, Portugal to meet a German informer to ensure that Field Marshall Rommel’ divisions are still defending the beaches in the Pas-de-Calais, the shortest route across the English Channel.

Garner awakens in 1950 with acute amnesia in a U.S. Army Military Occupation Hospital in southern Germany. His doctor, Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), U.S. Army tells him that the beautiful nurse at his side, Anna (Academy Award winner Eva Marie Saint), is his wife. But the last thing Pike remembers is being in Lisbon just days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy not Calais. However, it isn't 1950; the doctor isn't American; this isn't a U.S. hospital and Anna isn't his wife.

Garner was drugged, abducted and flown to southern Germany and becomes immersed in an intriguing plan of German intelligence to gain the Overlord information. The Gestapo has given Taylor 36 hours to work his plan before they execute a simple interrogation in a dark cellar with their typical methods of pain. Taylor is convincing that his methods are trying their best to restore Garner’s memory. For this purpose, they try to make him remember the last things he knew in 1944, and what would be better than recalling all of the details of the D-Day landings?

Will Garner discover the Nazi's nearly seamless ruse to trick him into compromising military secrets revealing the Allies' invasion plans that could alter the outcome of WWII? The thriller is based on a 1942 short story “Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl. “36 Hours” has a good script and plot, and like a good Mission Impossible hoax they have really created the illusion that the war is already over to gather information from prisoners.

MHT gives it 3 Stars and adds another ½ for the great ending with John Banner as German Sgt Ernst (who a year later would evolve into Sgt Shultz at Stalag 13) “sees nothing” of Garner and Saint.