During the Second World War, over a million American soldiers were stationed in England. Their presence touched the lives of people in even the smallest villages. Yanks is the story of some of the relationships which grew out of the American invasion of a small northern English town during the grim wartime days. It’s a moving story of two similar and yet very different cultures coming together, warily at first but with growing respect and friendship and sometimes, even love.
Yanks delves into the experience of three Americans: Matt (Richard Gere), John (William Devane) and Danny (Chick Vennera) and the relationships they have with three English women: Jean (Lisa Eichhorn), Helen (Vanessa Redgrave) and Mollie (Wendy Morgan). It’s a tale of happiness and heartbreak and hope for the future.
Richard Gere ... Matt Dyson
Lisa Eichhorn ... Jean Moreton
Vanessa Redgrave ... Helen
William Devane ... John
Chick Vennera ... Danny Ruffelo
Wendy Morgan ... Mollie
Rachel Roberts ... Mrs. Clarrie Moreton
Tony Melody ... Mr. Jim Moreton
Martin Smith ... Geoff
Philip Whileman ... Billy
Derek Thompson ... Ken
Simon Harrison ... Tim
Joan Hickson ... Mrs. Moody
Arlen Dean Snyder ... Henry
Annie Ross ... Red Cross lady
I purchased the DVD because it covered a period of history fascinating to me. The fact that it starred Richard Gere was incidental. In the week since I first viewed the film, I have watched it about ten more times. I just couldn't get enough of Lisa Eichhorn. The other players also gave outstanding performances, even Richard Gere!
Strangely, the part of the film I find most gripping is the closing credits where they flash still pictures of the cast in group scenes. I didn't understand why this should be so at first, then I realized that the film created such a realistic family atmosphere that I wanted these film relationships to be real. It was like opening the family photo album to renew mental images of beloved relatives, since departed.
This film resonates for me because I have been in the shoes of Matt and Danny. A young serviceman overseas and desperately lonely for my family. In the film, the fact that the local people speak a language close enough to American English to allow communication is a huge bonus. The fact that some of these troops are stationed in England for close to 3 years and have no hope of returning to the United States leads to the strong tendency to build a life in the local area. The men start to build a family relationship to the local people they are most in contact with. Later arrivals tend to get included in the gradual merger of the two parallel societies in such close contact.
It occurred to me that the bizarre set of social conditions portrayed in the film, never to be repeated, would be a unique opportunity for sociologists to study the relationships established in these garrison towns.
Colin Welland wrote the screenplay from the British point of view. The fact that he treated the Americans so favorably spoke well of the image of these men several decades after their departure. He was perceptive in outlining the mutual bewilderment of the two sides on their first encounter. The fact that good relations developed over the months was a testament to the upstanding character prevalent on both sides.
The film score was superb! It really enhanced the film scenes and drew you into the flow of the story. I have replayed many scenes of the film because I so enjoyed the musical score. The tune played during the closing credits is my ultimate favorite. I never tire of watching this wonderful film.
The scene where Ken, the British Beau of the Lisa Eichhorn character Jean Moreton returned on leave was crucial to the plot. The two were supposed to become engaged at this time, but did not. It is clear that Jean was steadily gravitating toward her relationship with the Richard Gere character, American soldier Matt. Ken made no mention of the engagement, and hastily blocked Jean when she attempted to bring up the subject at the train station upon his departure back to his unit. I realized then that Richard Gere (Matt) would wind up with the girl (surprise, surprise).
The scene of the 1944 New Year's Dance was the most emotional point of the film. Everyone there knew that the prospective invasion of the continent would soon be coming. The soldiers knew that it was quite likely they would not survive the year. All the girls and other local friends who had come to love these men knew it too. Under such conditions, men and women tend to try to cram lifetimes of experiences into weeks.
The racial outrage that developed at the dance was difficult to watch. The screenplay showed the British Girls displaying remarkably benevolent attitudes toward the Black troops. I have no idea if this was a realistic portrayal of British racial policies of that period. If this film was accurate, America was far behind Britain in this department.
Matt and Danny were condemned by the British Girls for their passive acceptance of a near lynching. Matt and Danny couldn't see anything remarkable in their attitudes. The mutual incomprehension of the two sides was very nearly complete. The two couples managed to overcome their problems and restore the strained relationships.
It struck me as odd that the name of the town where all these events occurred was never mentioned. I suppose that the screenplay envisioned a generic town in Northern England as a stand-in for all the towns who faced this peaceful invasion.
As other comments have noted, the cooling towers for a nuclear power plant are prominent in the background of several scenes in the film. These power plants certainly never existed in 1943 England! I imagine that the film makers hoped we would overlook this glaring inconsistency.
The final scenes of the film had the troops boarding trains to be transported to their invasion embarkation points. A large portion of the young female population was there to tearfully see them off. It struck me that the local people had embraced these young men and were anguished to see them depart to possible death. It was like losing half their community to the war. The deserted streets in the town as the troops prepare for departure must have been unnerving to the town folk. I am sure that many of the troops were equally heartbroken to lose contact with dear friends and lovers. The horror of war really sank in from that scene.
This film is a real gem. I am astonished it is not more prominent when great films are mentioned. This is one of the few films I ever felt worthy of a 10 star rating.
One great mystery to me is: How different are we from our English cousins? This one helped dissipate the mystery, as it explored the relationships between the officers and enlisted men from the USA, training to invade the mainland in England, circa 1943-44...and the English folks of a rural town.
A line I thought my own was expressed in the beginning: At Heathrow, I was accosted by an old distinguished guy, "I say, young lass, you must be a Yank." "No sir, I'm a southerner." Same was said to a Limey by a sergeant from La.: "And don't call me a Yank. I'm from Monroe, La." Who would have thought we'd be resented (other than for our tardiness in getting into yet another 'war to end all wars'.)? The English respect for tradition was highlighted, as well as their reserve. As that Brit replied to me when I mentioned how polite the Londoners were: "Wish we were more like you: we just sit and suffer in these stifling hot (tube) cars. You would first try to open it, then you would ask the driver to open the window, and if he didn't, you'd throw a brick through it."
Yes, there's that as well as our barbaric treatment of black soldiers, highlighted beautifully by the English ladies hitting the dance floor with the dispirited soldiers after a horrible scene caused by rednecks ganging up on a black soldier. He had the audacity to dance with a white woman.....jitterbugging, at that. Wonder what would have happened if they'd been slow-dancing!!!
I loved the English scenery. The destroyer/cruiser appearing in front of a flock of sheep was startling (coming up a river).
One weakness: the makeup guys ought to make up a dying woman's ENTIRE head and neck, not just the face, with that white stuff. Certainly detracted from the credibility.
Richard Gere was his darling self, and they carefully made this sergeant-cook NOT an intellectual. He was just an ordinary GI Joe, as was his buddy, the horny sweet eye-talian-American. Yet both the Kennedy look-alike captain and the grunts fell into the same anatomy-created trap: they fell in love with the local English women. I finally understand why there are so many English brides from that era over here.
Vanessa Redgrave....does she just like going around nekkid? Had just seen her in 'Steaming', so this was more of the same but the nuances of her acting are non-paralleled. I frankly enjoyed the whole movie, as it so interestingly demonstrated a part of that war I knew nothing of.....the interaction of the Brits with the Yanks!!!
This is a beautifully judged and paced 1979 film by John Schlesinger, which explores wartime romance and a unique culture clash, with sensitivity, wit and an affectionate eye for the period in which it is set. The time, 1943/4; the place, a small town in the north of England; the parties, the US Army gathering for the invasion of mainland Europe, and the locals grateful for the military assistance but watchful for the virtue of their wives and daughters.
Richard Gere's Sergeant-Cook, Matt, is surely still one of his best and certainly most sympathetic roles. His love affair with shopkeeper's daughter Jean (Lisa Eichhorn) - together with another on/off romance further up the social scale between William Devane's Captain and Vanessa Redgrave's upper class lady - highlight the painful choice between love and loyalty which war often presents. Meanwhile, the sunnier, trouble-free pairing and marriage of boxer Danny (Chick Vennera) and happy-go-lucky Mollie (Wendy Morgan) demonstrates that war can offer fresh starts as well as tragic ends.
Though Schlesinger bases most of the film on the moral (and cinematic) values of the time in which it is set, he reminds us in one sequence of the segregation and race problems in the US Army, which would not be resolved until after the war (and of wider race problems in the US generally, which are still not resolved). Rightly, the movie makes no attempt to avoid emotion; and the ending with the troops, including Matt, Danny and the Captain, moving south to an uncertain future with the invasion force is genuinely moving.
I love US history. One of my favorite stories of the past is American soldiers in WWII Britain, so I have always had an interest in this movie, and I've seen it several times.
However, I think this movie has always been underrated. It would be great to see one of the classic movie channels like AMC or TCM feature "Yanks," followed by "Saving Private Ryan." Because "Yanks" ends rather abruptly, as the soldiers are on their way to battle (D-Day) and because "Private Ryan" begins with the landing craft approaching the Normandy beaches, these films would be great together.
Another reason I applaud "Yanks" is for featuring Black GIs (unfortunately, "Private Ryan" doesn't do this). Is it necessary every American history movie be "multicultural?" Maybe not, but the truth is that some 5000 African-Americans were a part of the Allied effort that put 156,000 soldiers on the Normandy beaches to begin the process of freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny. These men deserve to be recognized, and I'm glad for any film that does that (I also recommend the HBO Original film "The Affair" on this subject).
As I said, the movie ends suddenly. It would have been nice if the movie had done a "what happened" epilogue, like we see in "American Graffiti" or "Animal House." Do Matt, Danny and John survive the war? Do Jeanie, Mollie, Helen or the Moretons survive, or are any of them killed by the V-1 or V-2 rocket attacks that came after D-Day? Do Matt and Jean marry? The movie leaves you longing for answers.
# John Schlesinger originally delivered the film at a length of around 165 minutes. He was forced to cut the film by approximately 25 minutes before the film's premiere engagement. The film stayed at this length and the 165-minute director's cut has never been seen. Among the victims of the cuts was Bill Nighy, whose character Tom was deleted.
# Olivia Newton-John was interviewed for a key role.