In 1964's The Americanization of Emily, James Garner plays Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Madison, a "dog robber" serving under a Navy general. His job is to procure whatever his boss needs, be it booze, food, cigarettes, or female companionship, and he's very good at what he does. A proud coward, Madison's figured out that the best way to avoid being killed in a war is to stay as far away from the fighting as possible. Until, that is, he ends up at Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion as part of a PR stunt, and ends up an inadvertent hero.
Written by Paddy Chayevsky (Network, Altered States) and directed by Arthur Hiller, the story focuses on Charlie's love affair with a London war widow (Julie Andrews) who's lost her husband, brother and father in the war and finds Charlie's avowed cowardice encouraging -- she can't bear the thought of losing another loved one, and she thinks his attitude is sensible.
In one of the film's best scenes (you'll find it after the jump), Garner uses his considerable charm to make what could have been a preachy, heavy-handed scene into something memorably moving. When Charlie meets Emily's mother, a proud patriot who lives in denial that her husband and sons have been killed, he tells her how he came to his philosophy about war. After enlisting in the Marines, Charlie found himself in a unit invading the Solomon Islands: "There I was, splashing away in the shoals of Guadalcanal. It suddenly occurred to me -- a man could get killed doing this kind of thing. Fact is, most of the men splashing along with me were screaming in agony and dying like flies."
The problem, Charlie explains, is that war makes men brave, while the sensible attitude, the survival-oriented approach, is to be a coward.