You did what?
Author William Bradford Huie’s cry of outrage could be heard from one side of Hollywood to the other.
Not that anyone would commiserate. A bestselling writer dealt with the movie industry at his or her peril. If you succumbed to the lure of Hollywood gold you might as well kiss goodbye to any expectation they were actually going to film the book you had written.
In this case, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky stuck to the plainest of knitting, the romance between oversexed Yank Lt Col Edison (James Garner) and English rose Emily (Julie Andrews). He kept in the “dog-robbing,”* Edison stashing away crates of steaks, whisky, nylons, chocolates, whatever will keep the admiral happy and at the same time smooth the path for whatever officer or politician he was trying to schmooze.
But Huie’s tale went down a different route that Chayefsky chose to ignore. Yes, D-Day played a part, forming the climax, and the author did intend to score a political point. In Huie’s version, Edison’s role in D-Day was merely to film some of the proceedings. Keen to highlight the risk to the common soldier, the hero was prone to film the sordid aspect of war, focusing as much on death and injury as heroism. He even opened with a prologue, a dedication to the three men who died in the making of the film.
But his film never saw the light of day. Or at least not his director’s cut. He was forced to eliminate all scenes of dead Americans. Dead Germans were okay, just not dead Americans. Especially irksome was a sequence showing bulldozers covering American corpses with sand. He only won one battle with his superiors, refusing to stick in the cliché of a chaplain praying over sailors before they embarked on the D-Day vessels, but only because there was no chaplain present and he refused to shoot such a scene.
Of course, since he didn’t die in Huie’s book, there was no reason to come back from the dead. In fact, post D-Day, he and Emily spend a good chunk of time together before he is despatched elsewhere on another task with the admiral and there is a happy ending, fourteen months later, a reunion as Emily turns up where he is now stationed.
So where did all the cowardice malarkey come from? The mind of Paddy Chayefsky is the simple answer. In the book, the hero, as much as the next man, does not want to die in the war, but his fears are the normal ones, he doesn’t go out of his way to avoid action, profess his cowardice and stand up for the rights of cowards everywhere. So the book isn’t larded with long speeches about the horrors of war.
What attracted a producer like Ransohoff to the picture was the film the hero wanted to make. Not one that glorified war. A film that refused to see heroism as a great and noble thing was, of course, the same as sticking up two fingers to all those who could only justify war if it provided the opportunity for heroism as a sop to the wives and children the dead left behind. It was a strong point to make. And, prior to filming, there was plenty Edison had to say on the subject. While the admiral saw the landing as a great success because the casualties were much lower than expected, Edison felt for every man killed.
There’s no need in the book for the admiral to be a loony because it would be quite plausible to film for documentary or PR purposes action on World War Two beaches – what were John Ford and other famous directors doing if not that? Lt Cummings (James Coburn) who comes up with the dastardly idea of killing off Edison does not come up with such a dastardly idea in the book. In fact, in the original novel he’s a relatively minor character. And the much-vaunted nudity, revolving in the main around Cummings, is not particularly obvious in the novel, though Huie is perfectly blunt about the role of the bulk of the women. The novel opens with the classic line: “Twelve Englishwomen, known as Sloane’s Sluts, served America during the Second World War.”
However, the said Sloane is eliminated from the film, in order to provide the immoral Edison with something of a moral tinge. In the movie, with so many women easily available, he doesn’t indulge beyond a bit of bottom slapping. But in the book, he has sex with said Sloane while romancing Emily and again at the end while separated from her.
The Chayefsky version is peppered with dialogue about war that is primarily, even though Edison’s life is at stake, in the aesthetic vein. Huie, on the other hand, provides a salutary commentary on the war, filling the reader in on aspects rarely covered, the kind of unfamiliar material that would later be the bedrock of the airport bestseller like, well, Arthur Hailey’s Airport.
* “A dog-robber is a personal attendant of a general or an admiral. To ensure his superior has the best food and lodging, a dog-robber is willing to rob not only troops, widows and orphans but even the goddam dog.” So runs Huie’s description, a little note at the bottom of a page just in case the reader did not quite work out to what depths this ultra-scrounger would go to satisfy his boss.