Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Yanks tells the standard version of the old wartime story - young boys go away to fight while
the women are left behind. In this case it's told from an English point of view, at a time when their
country was host to a million young American soldiers while all the eligible English males are already
off fighting. Thanks to a standout cast and the sure hand of director John Schlesinger,
Yanks is deeply felt and emotionally mature. But it does take its time covering mostly familiar territory.
Universal has reinvented the definition of 'plain wrap' DVDs but in this specific case the transfer quality
does not suffer, as it has with other "Studio Selections" titles like
Charley Varrick and
Colossus: The Forbin Project. More details on that below.
Matt and Danny (Richard Gere and Chick Vennera) are two GI's relocated with hundreds of
thousands to rural England and luckier than most as they've found local girlfriends. Jean Moreton (Lisa Eichhorn)
is Matt's reluctant date, what with disapproving parents (Rachel Roberts, Tony Melody) and a boyfriend
already doing his duty overseas (Martin Smith). While Danny and his girlfriend, bus conductor Mollie
(Wendy Morgan) are soon involved in an all-out romance, Matt and Jean take it slowly. There are some
cultural differences: the local girls are especially appalled by the racism shown black GI's by their own
white comrades. Meanwhile, ranking officer John (William Devane) bends Army rules to divert officers'
rations - mostly liquor - to his men, while carrying on his own tentative romance with socialite Helen
(Vanessa Redgrave), a Red Cross volunteer. She has a husband away in the Navy.
Yanks is as deeply felt a movie about the English WW2 experience as was John Boorman's 1987
Hope and Glory, only with the Yankee invasion thrown into the mix. With most every able-bodied man
away fighting the only thing between the American boys and the local girls are old parents and
small children. Just the same, they're received by most townspeople with polite suspicion. The Yanks
will help save Britain from the Nazi hordes, but at what price?
Girls are girls and boys are boys and many of the soldiers 'get lucky' with the local lasses. Saucy
Mollie responds positively to Danny's puppy-dog desperation; like thousands of other girls, she's delighted
that she's suddenly in such demand. Serious Jean is much more reserved. She resents the Yankee
attitude at first, especially when Matt makes the innocent mistake of calling her the
foreigner. She's not 100% sure that her mother (beautifully played by Rachel Roberts) isn't giving
her good advice - stay away from the dirty Yanks.
But Matt charms them all. He's the company cook and bakes a heck of a beautiful cake from scratch - with
real eggs. Even Mom is impressed by Matt and his impeccable manners - a poor boy from
Arizona, he knows what being a suspicious guest is all about.
Savant avoided Yanks in 1979 because at the time I was underwhelmed by Richard Gere and resentful
that a basically inexpressive male model should get such great roles. Well, he apparently grew up quickly
because he's very good here, likeable and sensitive. As for Lisa Eichhorn, she can do no wrong, at least
after her terrific performance in
Cutter's Way two years later.
She had just come from Merchant and Ivory's
The Europeans, where she's
also very good. She's consistently fascinating and I'm sorry her career didn't pitch her into a
higher tier of stardom - many extremely talented actresses of the late 1970s had the same problem.
William Devane and Vanessa Redgrave make a nice couple for the other third of the romantic story,
but their realistic and mellow relationship is lacking in dramatic highpoints. Helen is thrilled
when the officer takes her on a B-25 joyride to Ireland to buy some booze for the troops, and there's a
nice scene where she wins a small boodle from a slot machine. But something's missing; despite the
detail and sensitivity, it doesn't seem to matter much whether the pair sleeps together or doesn't.
With all the in-plain-sight consorting going on, it's also interesting that Helen doesn't have a
potential problem with her husband when he returns.
The younger couple is a bit more volatile; Jean's intended returns for a short time (gee, I didn't know
British soldiers got leave like that) and Matt shows how upset he is by getting drunk and starting
trouble. It's his weakest scene - Gere doesn't seem capable of that much hostility. The
sticky issues of obtaining parental approval and dealing with the other less gentlemanly Yank soldiers
provide some problems for Jean, culminating in a well-handled riot at a dance when a bunch of
rednecks go ballistic seeing a black soldier dance with an English girl.
The movie would seem to be primarily an English production, with Yankee screenwriter Walter
Bernstein contributing (is it fair to make assumptions like this?) dialogue with American flavor.
At least the Americans seem to be played mostly by Americans. I wonder what the English thought
about Lisa Eichhorn playing the lead English girl?
Savant is always moved by the problems of war separation, a feeling that has to be the prime emotion in
many families today. The movie ends on a slightly muted note, refreshingly free of overhyped emotions.
Matt's farewell cake sends precisely the right message to a confused Jean, and she and
Mollie rush to the station to make their goodbyes. Almost every female is doing the same thing: One
lady shouts that half the women in town are pregnant.
The movie isn't quite sharp enough to make the most of a couple of potentially great moments. Rachel
Roberts' sickness seems like a rushed replay of scenes with Wendy Hiller in Sons and Lovers.
The racist soldier is suddenly singled out when he wins a pile of coins in a last-minute gambling
spree. He's so jubilant that he generously hands them over to Jean's cute little brother,
saying "Spend 'em for me, kid." It works much better than speeches about how a lot of the boys
won't be coming back.
Simon Harrison, the kid in
The Wind and the Lion has a
small part. The movie is rated "R" but it's a very soft "R." Just a bit of fleeting nudity and a
curse word here and there. Oh, and also rampant immorality, if one is the kind of viewer who
prefers their entertainment whitewashed beyond historical recognition.
Universal's DVD of Yanks has a fine enhanced transfer with a strong audio track that
features a selection of wartime tunes - no Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller oversell here. Savant
used to make jokes about DVD packages that listed things like menus and scene selections as 'special
features.' I guess they were special after all, because Universal has invented the ultimate plain-wrap disc and
called it their Universal Studio Selections line. There's no interactivity whatsoever. You put
the disc in and the movie plays. When it's done, if you don't turn it off, it will repeat ad
infinitum, making it a poor choice to put on the player when one is sleepy. If you push the
pause button, it does pause, thank heaven. Now that's a special feature!
With the low price and the high quality transfer, perhaps those drawbacks aren't as bad as they
seem. I greatly prefer this to the pan'n scan discs (which some Studio Selections are) that
sneak their way into studio release lineups from time to time. With studios supposedly
doing so well from DVD sales, it's a bit disheartening to see a major taking such a cheap
road. One feature I do miss are English subs - and I see no closed-captioning symbol on the box either.
This English film has a lot of mumbled provincial-speak that just doesn't communicate to my dull ears - I
often rely on subs to follow English movies.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Sound: Excellent (listed 2.0 stereo English)
Supplements: a box? Universal's best wishes? This is a Studio Selections disc, Pilgrim
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 18, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson