March 16, 2006

My Hero, A Coward

I don't know if Paddy Cheyefsky was the greatest writer in the history of the movies.

I mean, surely Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges produced more films of quality, and guys like Herman Mankiewicz and Ben Hecht and Dalton Trumbo did their bit, but I can't think of two movie scripts that are better than Network and The Americanization of Emliy.

Of course, everyone knows the classic Howard Beal monologues from Network, but I was reminded, while watching "Emily" of just what a gift Chayefsky had for expressing complex political ideas in the midst of an ostensible romantic comedy.

A WWII black comedy set in London, this may be the nerviest take on war ever, even eclipsing Preston Sturge's great Hail the Conquering Hero. Take this scene where James Garner as a self-professed coward leads a grieving wife and mother to see an alternate way to understand war:

"It's not war that's insane, you see, it's the morality of it. It's not greed and ambition that makes wars, it's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons, for liberation or manifest destiny...always against tyrany and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war we've managed to butcher some 10,000,000 humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we'll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity....I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is. It's always the war widows who lead the Memorial Day parades....We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogeys. It;s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers. The rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow's weeks like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio...an everyday soldier's death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud."
"You're very hard on your mother. It's seems a harmless enough pretense to me."
"No, Mrs. Barham. No. You see, now my other brother can't wait to reach enlistment age. That'll be in September. Maybe ministers and generals blunder us into war, Mrs. Barham, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She's under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave."
Fucking 'A. Posted by krudman at March 16, 2006 11:35 PM | TrackBack
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