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The Longest Day

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 07-09-2010


This special collector’s commemorative edition has been issued in honor of the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of France, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination over Europe. The attack involved 3,000,000 men, 11,000 planes and 4,000 ships, comprising the largest armada the world has ever seen. The Longest Day is a vivid, hour-by-hour recreation of this historic event. Featuring a stellar international cast, and told from the perspectives of both sides, it … More >>

The Longest Day

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The Longest Day (1962 film)

In 1959, 15 years after the Allied invasion of Normandy, former war correspondent Cornelius Ryan wrote The Longest Day, his popular and critically-acclaimed account of the D-Day landings. Based on painstaking research and interviews with Allied and German veterans and the French civilians swept up in the events of June 6, 1944, The Longest Day remains among the best books on the topic.

It is not surprising, then, that 20th Century-Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck bought the film rights and asked Ryan, (who, besides having been a reporter, had also written plays) to adapt The Longest Day into a screenplay for a major motion picture. Zanuck, who had served in the Army Signal Corps as a lieutenant colonel and helped document the D-Day landings, had always wanted to make a feature film about the invasion. He also had another pressing reason to make what he thought would be a big hit: 20th Century-Fox, nearly crippled by box office flops and the costly production of Cleopatra, was on the brink of bankruptcy.

In order to attract audiences, Zanuck and his massive production team assembled a cast almost as large as the actual invasion force. 48 major international stars from three countries were signed on to what a World War II trivia book described as “the most expensive black-and-white movie made.” Shot in studios near Paris and on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, The Longest Day required not one but three directors. Andrew Marton shot the American exterior episodes, Bernhard Wicki handled the German exterior episodes, and Ken Annakin directed the British exterior episodes. Overseeing the entire project were Zanuck and Associate Producer Elmo Williams, who would later executive produce the Japanese-American Pearl Harbor classic, Tora! Tora! Tora!

The movie basically follows the book’s structure in its three major acts: The Wait, about the preparations on both sides for the invasion; The Night, about the night airborne assault; and The Day, about the landings on the five invasion beaches. The DVD breaks these three acts into 12 chapters.

While by early 21st Century standards The Longest Day’s combat scenes are rather tame – there are no extremely gory scenes as explicit as those in Saving Private Ryan – they do capture the vastness and complexity of the Normandy landings. Shot in a semi-documentary style (major characters are introduced with identifying “credits” so we know who is who), The Longest Day is as accurate as a 1962-era film studio could depict an actual event. The black-and-white presentation allows insertion of a few snippets of actual documentary footage (mainly of German soldiers marching through Paris and running to their fortifications near the beaches) seamlessly into the film. Of course, some characters (such as Eddie Albert’s Col. Thompson) seem to be composites or even fictitious, and some actors (such as John Wayne and Robert Ryan) look nothing like the officers they are portraying. Wayne plays Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandenvoort, who in 1944 was in his 30s, while Ryan plays Brig. Gen. James “Slim Jim” Gavin, who at 38 was the Army’s youngest general. (The more accurate, but far less popular sequel, A Bridge Too Far, cast Ryan O’Neal as Gavin.)

Accuracy goes out the window in at least one respect, and this one is at the top of most D-Day veterans’ list of gripes. While the movie does mention the awful conditions on the transports and landing craft (“Man, that stink! Diesel oil, backed up toilets, vomit. And there ain’t no place to get sick in!” gripes one soldier to Roddy McDowell), when the Allied soldiers get out of the landing craft, they hit the beaches running and screaming like banshees. In Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1994 D-Day, June 6, 1944, veterans scoff at Zanuck’s fanciful depiction, pointing out that they were too tired and too sick to run across the beach, much less yell like Confederates at Gettysburg.

Nevertheless, The Longest Day remains one of the best war movies ever made. Released in October of 1962 and enjoying a long run at the theaters, it was the box office’s top draw for 1963, earning an Academy Award for special effects and, luckily for Zanuck, saving 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.

The DVD presents The Longest Day to its original CinemaScope wide screen presentation, improving on the CBS-Fox two-cassette VHS version, which was released on the usual pan-and-scan “full screen” re-edit. Other improvements are a sound remastering by THX and a few tiny bits of additional footage. The single disc, however, has very few extra features; only the theatrical trailers to The Longest Day, Patton, and Tora! Tora! Tora!
Rating: 4 / 5

Here we have the consummate of all war movies of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in WWII in a 2-disc release.

Disk 2 bonus features include – A Day To Remember; Longest Day: A Salute to Courage; Backstory – The Longest Day; D-Day Revisted; Richard Zannuck on The Longest Day and a Still Gallery, all well worth owning this release.

However, in 2000 when FOX released a new digital but non-anamorphic transfer, they wisely placed the German and French subtitles in the lower “black bar” area left vacant due to the letterbox format, making for a very pleasant viewing experience. In this release the subtitles are restored back onto the main body of the film. As the text is white and the film being B&W, this makes for a very fatiguing 3 hours of viewing. Sometimes the text just disappears in the white portions of the film.

***Mini update! As someone politely pointed out, with newer HI-DEF 16 x 9 widescreen TV’s, the subtitle text would disappear with the non-anamorphic 2000 version. As HDTV has superb color and grayscale resolution, this is probably a moot point. As I and many are still waiting for HDTV prices to come down & the technology to go up, it may be advantageous to own both sets.

Otherwise a great movie portraying a fairly realistic look at that fateful day of June 6, 1944. Filmed appropriately in Black & White with complementing WWII stock footage. This is a film for the whole family as it truly does represent the carnage of war without the blood and gore that can disturb some viewers (like myself).
Rating: 5 / 5

The first time I saw “The Longest Day” in a movie theater they got a couple of the reels mixed up. The only way I knew this was that every time a major figure shows up in the film we are told their name, rank and unit. This mistake did not hurt the film all that much because this sprawling story of the D-Day invasion sixty years ago today was so huge and complex that it had four directors: Ken Annakin (British scenes), Andrew Marton (American scenes) Bernhard Wicki (German scenes), and the uncredited Darryl F. Zanuck. Granted, the realism of the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” make the storming of Omaha Beach in this 1962 film look like a walk on the beach in comparison, but “The Longest Day” remains along with “Battleground” one of the most realistic portrayals of what it was like for the infantry in World War II from what we will know have to call the old school Hollywood and which ended with “A Bridge Too Far” in 1977.

Based on Cornelius Ryan’s celebrated book of the same title, “The Longest Day” is almost three hours long and has one of the largest all star casts every assembled (42 international stars according to the poster), albeit with big names like John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchem, Richard Burton, and Rod Steiger playing supporting roles because, to tell the truth, there is nothing else to play in this film. If you are telling the story of D-Day, no single figure is going to emerge as the star, which is the point (Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, played by an uncredited Henry Grace, has one scene). Sean Connery was about to become famous as James Bond in “Dr. No,” and familiar faces include Red Buttons, Curt Jürgens, Edmond O’Brien, Kenneth More, Robert Ryan, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowell, Peter Lawford, George Segal, Gert Fröbe, and Jeffrey Hunter. The idea of throwing in teen idols like Paul Anka, Fabian, Sal Mineo and Tommy Sands makes sense because a generation earlier they would have been storming the beaches of Normandy. However, you might have a hard time picking up the likes of Richard Dawson and Bernard Fox in the crowd. Several minor players in the film were involved in D-Day, and the piper playing as Lord Lovat’s commandos storm ashore is the man himself, Bill Millin. The key thing is that the story being told is so big that it gobbles up all the stars.

The film shows events on both sides of the English Channel both before and during D-Day. On the side of the Allies there is the bad weather, troops tired from being on constant alert for several days, and the sheer size and importance of what is about to happen. Meanwhile the Germans are confident the Allies will attack at Calais and certainly wait for better weather, which explains why the key commanders are away from the front. One of the strengths of this film is that it also tells the story from the German’s side. Not only do we get necessary exposition and explication concerning German troop movements before and during June 6, 1944, but there is also the human element of Maj. Werner Pluskat (Hans Christian Blech), the guy sitting on the Atlantic Wall who looks out one morning and suddenly sees the Allied invasion fleet when the fog lifts and we hear the “da da da daaah” of Beethoven’s 5th (it is also Morse Code for “V,” used to denote “Victory” by the Allies). It is Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Werner Hinz) himself who calls the coming battle “the longest day.” There are also the efforts of the French Resistance (“Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor”) and French troops in helping to free their own country as well as the British efforts, so this is not just the Americans versus the Germans.

There are several sequences that stand out, most notably the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne landing directly into Ste. Mère-Eglise and being butchered by German troops. The shots of a a terrified and helpless Red Buttons stuck on a church steeple are probably the most memorable in the film, as is the reaction of John Wayne’s colonel when he sees the carnage and orders the bodies be cut down. The assault on the cliffs at Omaha also stands out, with Mitchem sending a series of men off to their deaths trying to blow a hole open to get the troops off the beach. Again, there is not the bloody carnage of Spielerg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” but the scene still retains an emotional power even by contemporary war movie standards.

“The Longest Day” was the most expensive black & white film ever made until “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and in both instances not using color works; after all, our “memory” of World War II is based on black & white images. The DVD has some solid extras, with “Hollywood Backstory: The Longest Day” providing a 25-minute documentary on the making of the film, focusing primarily on Zanuck and a 50-minute documentary on “D-Day Revisited,” while offers the rather strange sight of Zanuck telling strangers about D-Day and providing historical commentary mixed with clips from the film. In addition to the trailer for “The Longest Day” you get those for “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (certainly a comparable film), “Patton,” and “The Thin Red Line.”

Certainly “The Longest Day” is one of the best World War II films, even if we now have to talk about it as representing the old school of that genre. At some point, given the success of “Saving Private Ryan” and the early chapters of “Band of Brothers,” I would expect that someone is going to again try and do the macro view of D-Day. But clearly the next time around it is going to take a mini-series or limited series format to come up with something grander than this 1962 film.
Rating: 5 / 5

A comparison of The Longest Day (TLD) with Saving Private Ryon (SPR) is like comparing apples with body parts. TLD is an accurate historical doccumentary without the now-popular blood and guts splattered all over your screen portrail. The focus of TLD is to portray the events leading up to and including the Normandy invasion in an even, non-predudicial fashion from the American, British, French and German perspectives. Some of the humor is a bit corny and stilted and attempts to develop the characters of the American GI’s fall short of being realistic. But these are minor complaints. I have watched this movie many times and continue to enjoy it. Spielberg, on the other hand, is mainly focused on displaying the horrors and absurdity of war and he does so quite graphically in SPR. Having been in a combat situation, I have to say his portrail is quite accurate; uncomfortably capturing the essence of what it is really like. With TLD I can relive history. With SPR, I am reminded why I didn’t re-enlist!
Rating: 4 / 5

The Longest Day has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it as a kid in the late 70’s. It led me into an interest in the Invasion of Normandy. Since then I have read a dozen books on the subject including Ryan’s book The Longest Day as well as Ambrose’s D-Day: The Sixth of June. This movie is a far superior “historical document” than Saving Private Ryan. Although I agree that comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges I still can’t help doing it. TLD is an ensemble cast movie that seeks to teach the viewer about D-Day itself. The actors play real people (generals mostly) who have an impact on the battle. SPR is concerned with a fictional group of rangers looking for an equally fictional Private Ryan. There isn’t much history to be gleaned from that movie. While I admit that SPR presents a more grusomely bloody (and accurate) view of the battle on the Normany beaches themselves, it is not concerned with telling the story of D-Day. I have a feeling that the majority of the people who saw SPR in theaters were unfamiliar with the historical events surrounding this great battle. It is unlikely that their knowledge of D-Day was increased as a result of seeing SPR. If you have seen SPR but not TLD, do yourself a favor and watch TLD. It will at least give you context for what you saw in Spielberg’s movie.

The Longest Day is epic storytelling at its best. If SPR has a cast of dozens, TLD has a cast of thousands. In addition, the movie is very accurate as far as Hollywood movies go. I should also mention that TLD has excellent acting, cinematography, and directing. Do yourself a favor and watch this one in a letterbox presentation.

Which is the better movie? I personally believe The Longest Day to be better although Saving Private Ryan is still good in its own right.

Other great epic war movies with ensemble casts that attempt to present the historical “big picture” include Tora! Tora! Tora!, A Bridge Too Far, and Gettysburg. The Longest Day is my favorite although Gettysburg presents strong competition. Great biopic epics include Patton and Lawrence of Arabia.

Perhaps the ultimate movie would be a version of The Longest Day with Saving Private Ryan’s gory realism. Sadly, such a movie will probably never be made. Still, The Longest Day stands on its own just fine without it.
Rating: 5 / 5

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