Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars — Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.


The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.


  1. Oh, I very much agree. A great, great film that has sadly fallen through the cracks. James Garner wrote about it especially in his recent autobiography. Fine review of a work that sorely needs the spotlight. Well done.


    1. It’s one of our favorites. Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue is as fresh as ever. We could use a few Chayefsky’s in the business … I miss really great scripts, dialogue to die for. For that matter, I miss James Garner!


  2. Wonderful, timeless film. We saw this again the other night right after watching “Mrs. Miniver” yet again. Interesting juxtaposition of takes on war. The Chayefsky dialogue is magnificent!! Garner’s scene with the marvelous Joyce Grenfell grabs me every time. Grenfell was Oscar worthy with that solo scene. William Holden was one of my favorites but I’m glad he declined the role allowing James Garner to play Charlie and James Coburn to play the role originally slated for Garner. Garner’s anti-hero had a lot of Brett Maverick in him. It was interesting and poignant hearing Coburn discuss making the movie after JFK’s assassination. He went on at length, in a 1970’s “sit down”, about how difficult it was to shoot the film after hearing the news from Dallas. We actually had to stop the interview until he could collect himself. The excerpt Marilyn found shows a bit of how Coburn felt about the reel and real life emotions during the filming of “Emily”. Melvyn Douglas, a friend and confidante of FDR, gave one of his finest performances in a long and distinguished career. Kudos to the supporting cast which included Keenan Wynn who seemed to have a knack for sly cameos (“Dr. Strangelove”, “The Clock”, etc.), Steve Franken (“Dobie Gillis” series) and two “Laugh-In” regulars, Judy Carne and Alan Sues. I’m not sure how Duke Wayne felt about this film but I can guess. Charlie Madison wasn’t Sgt. John Stryker but I love both of them. Yes, War is Hell!!


  3. For folks who may be in the San Francisco Bay Area during May (2013), the Mechanics Institute Library will be screening 5 Chayefsky films, one each Friday evening, beginning with ‘The Americanization of Emily’ this Friday May 3rd:

    Cinemalit – Paddy Chayefsky: Scenes from American Lives:

    After being injured by a land mine while on patrol in Germany, Chayefsky recuperated in English military hospitals and later worked on the WWII documentary ‘The True Glory’ which was co-directed by Garson Kanin and Carol Reed – he had real experiences to bring to his adaptation of the novel…


    1. We are huge Chayevsky fans here. All of his scripts are as crisp and smart as the day he wrote them. Wish we could be there. Besides everything else, San Francisco is one of a handful of cities I’d like to see again. Thanks for the heads up!

      I actually bought the movie. As a history buff, it would be nice to see some real history for a change.


  4. Brilliant post. Thank you for connecting your two posts with mine. A huge fan of Paddy Chayefsky. Love intelligent dialogue & well developed characters who have something to say that has significance & meaning. The scene on the island with James & Julie, I wasn’t able to find that when I put my post together. I must tell you, it is one of my favorite scenes in the film. Do love the tea party. The whole film is exceptional. When I first saw it as a young teenager, the many times, I wrote the script out from memory. It gave me a strong taste for writing screenplays. I did it with a few of Julie Andrews films. This film, actually, was the first film I saw Julie in, so I didn’t have the influence of Mary Poppins & The Sound of Music in my head, so it was clearly a great way to be introduced to Julie Andrews on the screen. I was delighted that her first film partner was James Garner. I love them together & have seen all the films they appeared in after The Americanization of Emily. TAoE, though, is by far my favorite & I believe the best film both of them ever did. When I listened to James Coburn’s interview, the personal element, discovering when the party scene was supposed to me filmed, they heard about the assassination of President John Kennedy. What a somber moment in time that must have been. It adds a dimensional element I will remember whenever I watch this film again. You made my evening. Your posts are quite meaningful to me. I must tell you, the name of your blog is my favorite word. “Serendipity.” It is has such a magical meaning to me. Special things occur because of Serendipity. Thank you again for the connection. Jennifer Jk the secret keeper


    1. I too saw this in the movies. I think I was 18 or 19? It has stuck in my head and I was glad to finally get a copy of it. Paddy Chayevsky was brilliant. When Garner writes about “Emily” in his memoir, it was almost a religious experience for him. And he never recovered … never wanted to recover. It seems the whole cast felt that way, that they were doing more than just making a movie. I think that’s one of many reasons I had to marry my husband. He loves the same movies and books. That mattered when we were young, but it matters even more now! This will always be in my list of favorite great films. Glad to meet another fan. This isn’t as well known or popular as it should be, but we do our best!


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