The movie and the book

The novel was written by William Bradford Huie, the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. Some viewers may be interested in the differences.
Commander Madison's attitudes about building statues honoring dead war heroes is all Chayefsky. Huie's Madison (named James) has nothing to say on the subject. In fact, the word "coward" appears nowhere in the novel, and the only use of "cowardice" is out of the lips of Madison, when he chews out a fellow officer on D-Day.
The wonderful scene in which Joyce Grenfell and James Garner discuss the morality of war over tea is pure Chayefsky. In fact, Emily Barham's mother never even appears in the novel!!
The Admiral (Melvin Douglas) doesn't crack up in the book, nor does he dream up the "first dead man on Omaha Beach is a sailor" line. He simply directs that the D-Day invasion be filmed by Madison, and Madison complies.
Bus (James Coburn) does not land on the beach and does not shoot Madison. Reports of Madison's death wouldn't make sense in the novel, which is told in the first person.
The one-day delay in the invasion ("the moon didn't come out") plays no part in the novel, though it is a pivotal point in the movie.
In short, the movie, one of my favorites and a classic, owes its quality to Chayefsky, a solid cast (except for Coburn, whose reactions are conspicuously uneven), and a good first-time director, Arthur Hiller.
Finally, according to Hiller, the Madison role was to have gone to William Holden, with James Garner playing Bus. When William Wyler dropped out as director, Holden quit the project.



Holden would have been awful in the role.

One thing he did NOT do well was wry understated comedy. He would have deadpanned it right into the ground.


4) You ever seen Superman $#$# his pants? Case closed.


At first I thought you were completely wrong and that Mr. Holden would have done a great job. Then, when I read your next sentence, "He would have deadpanned it..." I remember him in Stalag-17. William Holden's deadpan approach works great in some roles, and would be terrible in others, including this one.

Thank you for making me think. You had an excellent insight there.


I think Holden would have found a way to play the role, but ultimately James Garner was the better choice (even if he got it on the rebound). And age-wise I don't think Holden would have been a good fit for Charlie; he was 45 when the film went before the cameras, and years of hard living made him look 45 - if not older.

And Chayevsky got the time line for the Charlie's D-Day "angle" wrong. The research I've done on the Airborne indicates that by 10:45 in the evening, everyone involved in the invasion had learned that D-Day had been postponed; it was certainly known at every Allied port and airfield supporting the invasion. And yet the film says that Charlie and Bus were scheduled to arrive at Portland at 11pm, and their conversation with the British port commander makes it clear the time is closer to 11:30pm; they would have known the moment they arrived that the invasion had been postponed.

Now if Charlie and Bus had arrived at the port around 10:15pm, everything that followed would have been accurate. I don't know if Chayevsky failed to do enough research or if someone gave him erroneous information, but this is one of the problem areas in his script - and there are a few, although I generally like the film.