Garner plays Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Madison, whose job it is to procure fine foods, liquor, female companionship and other luxuries for a Navy admiral (Melvyn Douglas) who happens to be going a bit mad. Charlie, in England with his colleagues and commander as D-Day fast approaches, falls for a local lady of the motor pool (Julie Andrews) who has lost her husband, father and brother to combat. Charlie doesn’t seem a likely candidate to follow in their boot prints. He’s a self-proclaimed coward.In real life, Garner served during the Korean conflict and earned two Purple Hearts, no shrinking violet was he. He married once and stayed with that gal for 58 years, until death did part them.
“It’s not war that’s unnatural to us, it’s virtue,” he explains. “As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.”
Here's the juicy part of the dialogue, followed by the clip:
"I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices....
My brother died at Anzio -- an everyday soldier's death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. . . . Now my other brother can't wait to reach enlistment age. That'll be in September. Maybe ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She's under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave."