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The Wonder of the Cinema

#12 The Longest Day

“Your assignment tonight is strategic. You can’t give the enemy a break.  Send ‘em to hell.”  John Wayne.

In 1962’s The Longest Day the invasion of Normandy on D-Day was a bloodless affair.  Certainly men die in war–and one does in the first minute of the film–but in 1962 (and in a John Wayne film) the dead die quickly and without their bodies being mangled.  They simply writhe and fall over.  Compare this with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan where the audience is bombarded with a 20 minute D-Day scene which fully depicts the horror and brutality of the meat grinder that is war.

I’ve seen The Longest Day perhaps half a dozen times before.  The first thing I noticed this time is how the best actors are used to deliver exposition.  John Wayne informs us of the number of men crowded into southern England in preparation for the invasion, 3 million, and Robert Mitchum and Eddie Albert discuss the number of ships and men involved in the initial invasion.  They deliver their lines with such panache that we forget they are reminding the audience(in 1962) of facts they most likely already knew.  Here again the filmmakers are confronting the issue of how to deliver a plot whose outcome is already known, the Allies win the war.

The cast is absolutely spectacular.  Sir Richard Burton plays a cynical Battle of Britain veteran, John Wayne a paratroop commander, the then unknown Sean Connery as cheeky Scott private(just before he jetted off to Jamaica to film Dr. No), Henry Fonda a general and arthritic son of President Roosevelt, Curt Jurgens as a German general, Peter Lawford as Lord Lovat, and George Segal(Just Shoot Me), pop star Fabian.  Also Richard Beymer(West Side Story), Red Buttons(The Poseidon Adventure), Roddy McDowall(Planet of the Apes), Sal Mineo(Rebel Without a Cause), Richard Dawson(Hogan’s Heroes) all play soldiers.

The direction of a film is usually in the hands of a single person.  However, To create a more sympathetic stance to each of the different parties, producer Darryl F. Zanuck had Englishman Ken Annakin direct the British segments, the American parts were handled by American action specialist Andrew Marton and German Bernhard Wicki took care of the scenes with the German army officers.   Zanuck also reportedly stepped in to helm some pick-ups, brief shots needed for editing purposes.

Interesting trivia:

  1. Actor Richard Todd next to the actor who is portraying him...

    Actor Richard Todd next to the actor who is portraying him…

    Actor Richard Todd was a paratrooper during WWII and plays his own commanding officer, Major John Howard, in portraying the taking of the bridge at Benouville, aka the Pegasus Bridge, and in one scene talks to an actor portraying himself!

  2. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered for the film to play himself.  However, the make-up artists didn’t think they could make him appear young enough as almost 18 years had elapsed.  Once completed President Eisehnower was only able to stand a few minutes of the film due to his frustration at the historical inaccuracies!
  3. While clearing a section of the Normandy beach near Ponte du Hoc, the film’s crew unearthed a tank that had been buried in the sand since the original invasion. Mechanics cleaned it off, fixed it up and it was used in the film as part of the British tank regiment.  Now that’s workmanship!
  4. That’s Gerte Frobe, aka Goldfinger from James Bond fame, riding a horse taking coffee to the German troops in Normandy.
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About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...

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