US Navy Lieutenant Commander Charlie Madison (James Garner) is a confirmed coward who devotes all his efforts to avoiding combat duty.
Madison serves as a “Dog Robber” for Admiral Jessup (Melvyn Douglas), procuring mountains of consumer goodies to throw lavish entertainments in the middle of strict war rationing.
Charlie also procures party girls, much to the delight of his best buddy, Lt. Commander Bus Cummings (a very funny James Coburn).
But when he meets English war widow-turned military chauffeur Emily Barham (Julie Andrews in arguably her finest screen role), he finds she doesn’t approve of his lack of patriotism and this is where his troubles really begin.
Then Charlie lays into the British, first calling Emily a prig because she isn’t casual about sex, and then lambasting her country’s snooty military tradition that sends sons off to die alongside their fathers. Emily’s mother (Joyce Grenfell) is a sitting duck for Charlie’s arguments, as she’s already lost a father, a son and a husband to the war.
Unfortunately, Admiral Jessup suffers a nervous breakdown and orders Charlie to make a political public relations film about the first casualties on Normandy Beach. Our “yellow through and through” Commander finds himself trapped into undertaking an almost certain suicide mission.
This was a surprisingly acerbic and adult comedy from the usually glossy MGM studio. Shot in black and white in England and written by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky from the William Bradford Huie novel, it’s quite simply magnificently cast.
Lt Cmdr Charles Madison
Admiral William Jessup
Lt Cmdr “Bus” Cummings
Admiral Thomas Healy
Capt Harry Spaulding
Chief PO Paul Adams
Capt Marvin Ellender