A Cook and a Gentleman
Growing up in the UK during the 70s and 80s I have memories of an educational TV show called "The Way We Use to Live" which as the title suggests recreated what life was like at certain times. In a way John Schlesinger's "Yanks" reminds me of that series because a big part of the movie is recreating what it was like for both the Americans and English in a Northern British town during WWII. But it is more than just a history lesson because the main focus of "Yanks" is on the relationships which formed often of a romantic variety but at the same time highlighting the cultural differences between the stationed Americans and the British. It makes it a nostalgic, educational, romantic drama with pleasant performances through out.
Having arrived in England Matt Dyson (Richard Gere - Amelia) is a Mess Hall cook who on meeting local lass Jean (Lisa Eichhorn) takes a shine to her. The trouble is that Jean's long term boyfriend and soon to be fiancee is fighting abroad and her parents especially her mother is not happy about the friendship which forms between Jean and Matt despite finding Matt a polite and generous young man. At the same time Army Captain John (William Devane - Family Plot) has formed a close friendship with the married Helen (Vanessa Redgrave - Agatha) whose husband is an Officer fighting overseas.
Now whilst "Yanks" works as a complete movie it is a movie of 3 different strings those are the romance, the cultural differences and recreating the atmosphere of war time Britain when American soldiers came rolling in. Now all 3 strings interweave, not necessarily smoothly but paint this picture of life, of the difficulties that the soldiers faced with the animosity they met and also the complexity of wartime relationships. It means that whilst the focus is mainly on Matt and Jean's relationship followed by John and Helen we have all these subtle elements going on such as Jean's mum's disapproval of her and Matt being friends but actually liking Matt.
Now that all sounds quite simple and most of "Yanks" is simple, an easy to understand romantic drama set against Britain at War but it does have some depths. And the real depths come from the difficulties that individuals faced, when tragedy strikes in one of the relationships we see the Matt getting the blame because he is the easy route out. We also see how despite being in love there is Matt not wanting to risk saddling Jean with a child knowing full well he will be shipping out and Jean thinking he doesn't love her. These depths, these little moments of complexity don't actually over complicate the movie but brings to life the difficulties of the time, whilst also delivering some typical entertainment such as brash American's trying it on or getting into fights.
Now the thing about "Yanks" is that it is full of good performances with Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Chick Vennera and Lisa Eichhorn all delivering solid characterisations. But it almost feels like John Schlesinger was hypnotised by Gere's looks because he dominates the movie and it is a good, nicely subtle but also believable performance from Gere. It means that "Yanks" whether it was intended to be or not is all about Richard Gere.
What this all boils down to is that "Yanks" is a nice, entertaining wartime movie which manages to mix romantic drama, with cultural differences alongside a way we use to live feel. It works and there is nothing really wrong with the movie other than in the end it is not that memorable.