Much admired anti-war dramedy, a typically over-written broadside from Paddy Chayefsky, wears it’s ironic edge on its sleeve, as if it were the first to take on the phony glorification of war. But helped by Arthur Hiller’s dutiful direction*, and by a pitch-perfect cast, some of this comes across with unusual charm (especially in the way Julie Andrews’ stiff Brit warms to James Garner’s cowardly Yankee realist). Chayefsky never was one to ‘kill his darlings,’ explaining, at length, too many things we should notice on our own. Often a speech ends with a one-line tag that could have served for the whole scene, even improved on it. An early door-stopper has Garner pulling a tough-talk ‘cure’ on Andrews’ delusional widowed mom, leaving her with honest melancholy and cold tea. Meant to be bracing & hard-headed, it’s more like grandstanding; though not nearly as disingenuous as Garner’s Normandy Beach/D-Day cowardly heroics used by Chayefsky to set up a cop-out have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too flip-flop finale.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Only Andrews’ second feature (post-POPPINS/pre-SOUND OF MUSIC) and followed by TORN CURTAIN/’66. Note the difference in chemistry between Andrews & Garner vs Andrews & Paul Newman in the Hitchcock pic. And the difference it makes in Andrews’ screen presence.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Hiller’s lack of sparkle actually helps ‘ground’ Chayefsky, as in the best of his later scripts, THE HOSPITAL/’71. More stylish helmers like Sidney Lumet (NETWORK/’76) & Ken Russsell (ALTERED STATES/’80) over-egged the Chayefsky pudding.