Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the lonliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives.
In the winter of 1943, thousands of American troops arrive in Yorkshire for maneuvers to the Normandy invasion. Most of them are far away from home for the first time in their lives. In this well-crafted film, we follow the paths of three Americans as they try to assuage their loneliness with love.
A sex-starved private (Chick Venneral) meets and falls in love with a cute bus conductor (Annie Ross). His buddy Matt (Richard Gere), a mess sergeant from Arizona, meets Jean (Lisa Eichhorn), a shopkeeper's daughter whose fiancé is fighting for the British. Their commander John (William Devane) forms a friendship with Helen (Vanessa Redgrave), a rich matron whose husband is off at war.
Through two of these relationships, we see the peculiar difficulties of wartime love affairs. Matt manages to impress jean but has a harder time with her puritanical parents (Rachel Roberts and Tony Melody). Lisa Eichhorn does a fine job conveying Jean's confusion as she tries to clarify her feelings for Matt under the crossfire of parental disapproval and emotional loyalty to her fiancé. Vanessa Redgrave's portrait of Helen is equally impressive. After calling upon John for advice regarding her son's dissatisfaction with a private school, she finds herself drawn to him sexually. In both situations, the women pass over their prior commitments to escape from loneliness.
Yanks is a melodrama chock full of touching scenes. The only real dramatic incident is the outbreak of racial violence at a New year's Eve party when a black soldier crosses the color line and dances with an English girl. It is to director Schlesinger's credit that the storyline's engaging characters, leisurely pace, and nostalgic tone are enough to keep it appealing throughout.