USA/ UK/ West Germany
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 3rd December, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 139 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A small northern town in England finds out that a large U.S. Army base is being established for the build-up to the Normandy landings. Soon thousands of rambunctious American troops, or “Yanks” as they are known to the British, descend upon the area. On leave, Technical Sergeant Matt Dyson encounters Jean Moreton, who has a boyfriend fighting overseas, and the two begin to spend time together. Private Danny and bus conductor Mollie immediately fall in love. And Matt and Danny’s Captain John visits the house of Red Cross volunteer Helen, whose husband is away at sea, increasingly often.…
Even if you consider that this website reflects the taste of those who write for it which is roughly 50% horror [which we love but certainly couldn’t watch all the time] and 50% everything else, romance doesn’t tend to be something that rears its head on HCF much at all. This has never really been something I’ve tried to do much about, so I was very happy when our webmistress Bat informed me that she’d received Yanks which has always been a personal favourite of mine and sent it on to me. It’s partly a war film, but it’s not about battles or missions, it’s about something that isn’t shown very often, the often awkward mixing of cultures that happens when soldiers of one country are stationed in another, even if they speak the same language, and Yanks handles the subject in a very even handed way, full of the human truths that director John Schlesinger brought to films as diverse as A Kind Of Loving and Midnight Cowboy. It’s also a wonderfully warm, yet still poignant, slice of nostalgia that for me makes it one of the most purely romantic films from its period, though largely because of its nature it’s never been given its due. It does have the relaxed feel of a Sunday afternoon film that you may happily doze through bits of [though what’s wrong with that?], and somebody I was talking Richard Gere movies with a few weeks ago said that nothing much really happens in it, but that’s not always a flaw, and – well – I don’t want to sound arrogant [she won’t read this review so I’m safe] but I honestly think that, if she’d really understood it, she wouldn’t have made that statement. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she had yet to totally fall in love. As it stands, in terms of Gere romantic dramas this one to me is worth five Pretty Womans or An Officer And A Gentlemans.
This was something that director John Schlesinger had wanted to make for ages, but needed to have a hit first. He finally obtained the financing from the United States and West Germany, despite the film being made in England, after his Marathon Man had been a major box office success. Jeff Bridges was Schlesinger’s first choice for the role of Matt, but he turned it down so it went to Richard Gere. Lisa Eichorn faked a British accent so well that she was immediately signed for the role of Jean. Eventually it was found out that she was American, but she was kept in the part. Filming took place mainly on location in Northern England. Scenes were shot at Oldham, Glossop, Stalybridge, Stockport, Keighley and other surrounding areas, plus Llandudno in North Wales and Twickenham Studios in Middlesex. Schlesinger originally delivered the film at a length of 165 minutes, but was forced to cut it down to 138 minutes, in the process totally removing a character played by Bill Nighy. I never knew that the version shown on UK TV used to be cut also until watching this Blu-ray edition, because I never obtained the film on DVD [I’m the kind of person who – horror of horrors! – still has a working video player and, if a video still looks and plays okay, I’ll keep it]. The several edits for adult content including shots of the two main female stars in the buff were for once done very well and I never noticed that bits were missing.
Our GIs entering the [unnamed, though I guess that’s just as well considering the variety of locations used] Yorkshire town always makes me chuckle a little because Richard Rodney Bennett’s musical theme is almost the same tune as Monty Python’s charming ditty ‘Sit On My Face’. But right away we’re taken around many different viewpoints, viewpoints that we’re then reminded of throughout the film. Some of the soldiers are pests, especially to women. Some are arrogant. But the majority of them seem apprehensive and frightened, because they’re far away from home in this cold, wet place. As for the townsfolk, you get the people who automatically dislike these visitors, sometimes out of instant xenophobia, sometimes because of the reputation soldiers always have when in a place with lots of young women, and sometimes just because there’s so many of them. But others love them, from much older females who are more than happy to have loads of young men in uniforms around, to young boys who, being young boys, are excited by the idea of war and even worship these guys while making money from fetching them fish and chips. One scene quite late in the film shows troops undergoing practice with machine-guns firing and explosions going off all over the place. The two lads watching think that it’s all so cool, but the viewer certainly isn’t led to think that. And then you have Mollie and Jean. Out-going, chatty Mollie doesn’t seem to mind all these soldiers being about and is happy to flirt with them. On the other hand, the more reserved, shy Jean immediately feels insecure and even worried despite having a soldier boyfriend serving abroad.
The film begins to split itself into showing three relationships between American soldiers and English civilians, each different in nature but all familiar to many. The one that gets the least attention, perhaps because it’s the least interesting, is the one between Danny and Molly. They seem to be initially driven by their libidos but a strong love begins to form. Then there’s Captain John, who has a nice little black market operation going on diverting some of the booze and cigarettes that usually goes to the generals and journalists to the troops, and rich lady Helen who are much older. Both have absent spouses who they continually tell each other about, and they seem to fall into a physical relationship more out of loneliness than anything else. One gets the impression that John has rarely been a faithful sort but he seems to fall in love just a little bit here, if maybe not Helen. The most attention is given to Matt and Jean. When they go on a double date to the cinema with Danny and Molly, Matt and Jean don’t hit it off nearly as well, Jean being really guarded, but they do form a friendship and begin to fall in love. I wouldn’t be surprised if some young first-time viewers find the development of their relationship unrealistically slow, but despite the increase in promiscuity that understandably occurred during World War 2, it was far more the norm back then to wait far certain things a very long time than it is now. I can’t say that I really understood Matt’s decision to stop doing something in a pivotal scene much when I was younger, much like Jean in the film, and like her it didn’t seem to me that he truly loved her. Now, I understand, and realise that he loved her dearly, and perhaps even more deeply than her. It makes the expected finale even more touching, because we’re asked to consider what could have been as much as we are asked to consider what once was. Maybe it’s sadder to look back on what didn’t fully flourish.
Apart from one awkward edit during a dance scene and some small appearances by a soldier drummer which possibly show a part drastically cut down, the cuts made to the film don’t seem to be obvious, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the montages incorporate bits from scenes that were deleted. A shame that not much information seems to be easily accessible about this film. Sometimes it’s actually at its loveliest during these sequences, with Bennett’s absolutely gorgeous love theme being allowed to soar and provide the aural sensation of falling in love. This is something that older movies often did unabashedly and it’s almost been lost today because I think less people these days like this kind of thing being laid on with a shovel. A shame really. It’s not all sentimentality though. Without painting all the soldiers as big-headed sex maniacs, the film does touch on the less pleasant and sordid happenings that will result from having so many troops in one area, and there’s a brilliant scene in a dance hall where some white Americans don’t take kindly to a black man dancing with an English girl and almost lynch the poor guy. Jean and Millie can’t understand why Matt [who earlier on ‘rescues’ Jean from some unwanted attention with perhaps excessive force] and Danny stand by and do nothing to help. When order has been restored, Jean and Millie do something that’s just as incomprehensible to Matt and Danny. Jean, followed by Molly and then a whole load of other English girls, go over to the African-American soldiers and ask them to dance, the floor soon being filled with mixed race couples. What’s perhaps most revealing is that Matt and Danny do seem to be aware that this racism is wrong yet still don’t think to stop the violence because that’s the way it’s always been where they’re from. The cultural divide is really wide on this issue.
Schlesinger employs a more casual directorial style then he tended to do previously, though still employs a punchy edit on a couple of occasions, while cinematographer Dick Bush resists the temptation to bathe the film in a rose tinted glow – though he does enjoy shooting close-ups of Lisa Eichorn and Wendy Morgan in soft focus. If this film gets any attention at all, it’s probably largely due to Richard Gere in an early role. His slightly cocky but very sensitive soldier is instantly likable, but for me it’s Eichorn who’s the stand out. She plays many of her moments with wonderful subtlety – just concentrate on when Matt and Jean go to a pub and you’ll see in Eichorn’s slightly changing expression when her character begins to fall for Matt – and I cannot understand why, despite working solidly, she never went on to become a major star. Rachel Roberts and TV veteran [you’ll recognise him if not the name] Tony Melody get their own moments to shine as Jean’s parents. All four are outstanding in the scene where Matt goes to Jean’s house for dinner and wins her mum and dad over a bit. Of course Vanessa Redgrave is superb and easily out-acts William Devane who tries to get by on mainly grinning. I could also have done without Jean already having a fella, though at least he’s portrayed in a very favourable manner so the viewer doesn’t automatically want her to be with Matt, while the film possibly loses just a little of its romantic spell in its final quarter as serious matters intrude [yes, things certainly do happen] – though that’s life I suppose with or without the background of war. And the choice of that immortal standard ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ [what with this film and The Notebook I can barely hear the bloody thing without feeling the tears come on] at the end over stills of the cast members perfectly encapsulates this entirely unpretentious but extremely well thought through, balanced and sensitive gem of a film that I have no shame whatsoever in scoring far more highly than probably most others. It’s perfect for curling up with your loved one to watch on a Sunday afternoon – or curling up on your own and remembering past loves and wondering “what if”? [I mean come on, does anyone watching it feel that Matt will be back?] – as well as providing an intelligent insight into an aspect of war we probably rarely think about.
This is the first time that Yanks has been on Blu-ray anywhere. Eureka present the film in a new transfer that maintains its fairly naturalistic look and seems to me to be entirely devoid of the things that can sometimes hamper new restorations of older films like uneven grain distribution and black crush. The soft-focus shots sticking out a bit more than they probably would have done even in the cinema may distract some. But overall this is an excellent presentation and the mono soundtrack perfectly balanced. Unfortunately Eureka have only given us one special feature, a 52-minute audio recorded of an interview given by Schlesinger in front of an audience who ask questions in the second half. It seems to be taken from around the mid-’70s and doesn’t mention Yanks at all. But the questions do cover many of his other films, while you also gain an insight into what it was like working for TV and hear a lot about Julie Christie. Playing over the film, it’s certainly worth a listen. I’d have liked another special feature or two though it seems that us fans of this film are thin on the ground, so Eureka probably didn’t think it was worth adding any more or creating any of their own.
While the Doc enjoys most kinds of movies, there aren’t really very many of this nature that he really loves – but Yanks is one of them. Despite being low on special features, Eureka’s combo release of this criminally overlooked picture comes Thoroughly Recommended – for the true romantic.
*1080p presentation (on Blu-ray) from a new high-definition transfer
*Original LPCM mono audio (on Blu-ray)
*Optional English SDH subtitles
*Archival interview with director John Schlesinger
*Original theatrical trailer
*PLUS: A Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, alongside rare archival imagery