Last week I posted about the war movie HELL IS FOR HEROES on the day after Memorial Day was observed. Since tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day, it seemed appropriate to write something about THE LONGEST DAY this week.
This movie is overlooked only in the same sense that HELL IS FOR HEROES was, that is, I've never seen it until now. Don't ask me how that's possible, but it's true. I've seen other movies about D-Day, but not this one. As I'm sure most of you know, it's the sort of big, sprawling, epic production that
used to turn out, with what they call a "star-studded" cast, meaning that there's not really a single lead but rather a bunch of big-name actors wandering around doing bit parts. Hollywood
There are little fictional scenes here and there, but for the most part THE LONGEST DAY is a straightforward historical retelling of the events of June 5 and 6, 1944, from the perspective of both the Allies and the Germans. From what I know of the history, it's pretty accurate, too.
John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O'Brien all play American generals. Peter Lawford's a British commando, Richard Burton's a pilot. Sean Connery has a couple of scenes as a Scottish sergeant, and although they're never on screen together, Gert Frobe, who a year later would be opposing Connery's James Bond as Auric Goldfinger, shows up as a somewhat inept German sergeant. In what's probably the movie's best scene, Red Buttons is an American paratrooper whose parachute gets hung up on a church roof, leaving him dangling helplessly over a courtyard full of German soldiers. And that's just a few of the people in this film, which was put together by three different directors and half a dozen writers.
I enjoyed THE LONGEST DAY, but the first half of it sure is slow. The invasion itself doesn't really get cranked up until the final third of the movie, but that saves the film from collapsing under its own weight. There's some spectacular stunt and special effects work, the photography is excellent, and the acting is solid all around. If you're a fan of war films and haven't seen it, you really ought to. I think I prefer a little more fiction mixed in with my history, but that's just me.