on May 21, 2003
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, saved 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!
on May 9, 2006
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).
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.
on December 9, 1999
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!
There are many reviews of the movie posted. I wanted to give some thoughts on the Blu-ray disc. I would rate the transfer as good, but not great. Granted, this is a 47-year old film, so your expectations have to be lower than for a current film. The opening sequences are very good and you begin to think that this is literally a clearer, sharper version than any that has been seen before, even on the film's opening day. But then about 20 minutes in some problems with the transfer crop up. It's most notable in the faces, which become quite washed-out. Several of the scenes with John Wayne suffer from this. The problems last for perhaps 15 to 20 minutes and then intermittently thereafter. These scenes are still very watchable, but the transfer problems become a bit of a distraction; as the scene changes you wonder -- is the next scene going to be a good transfer or a bad transfer? There are also a couple of short scenes that appear not to have been processed at all. I'm not referring here to the documentary footage, which presumably could not be processed, but to regular scenes that for some reason are not in HD. The Blu-ray process also causes some problems with rear-projection scenes, where actors are shown in front of canned backgrounds. Here the Blu-ray process accentuates the fact that the backgrounds aren't live. So, all told, I'm glad I now have a Blu-ray version of this film, but it's not quite as a big an improvement on the DVD version as I had hoped.
The extras are decent, but not exceptional. On Disc 1, the commentary by a UCLA history professor is pretty awful. She is very condescending and seems to assume that she is addressing an audience of 12-year olds who know nothing about WW II. The various "making of" types documentaries on Disc 2 are ok, if somewhat repetitive -- the same interview with Red Buttons is used in a couple of them and many of the same points are repeated. One of these documentaries appears to have been prepared for showing on AMC and another for the History Channel. Probably the best of the lot is an interview with Ken Annakin who was hired by Darryl F. Zanuck to direct the British sequences and ended up directing a considerable chunk of the film. Although Annakin, who recently passed away, was probably in his 90s when the interview was filmed, he is interesting and informative, particularly about filming the difficult aerial footage of the French commandos taking the casino. (Annakin also supplies a commentary track on Disc 1.) Missing from these documentaries is the kind of detailed discussion of the film that goes into the difficulties of coordinating such a huge project or how the choices were made to include some sequences and cut others that fans of the film would love to hear about. I've always thought that the film as we have it is probably missing some deleted scenes. To take one obvious example, where is the scene showing how the Red Buttons character got down from the church steeple? There are a couple of other plot lines that seem to be dropped a little too abruptly. No deleted scenes are included on the discs.
All in all, if you are a big fan of the film, this Blu-ray version is probably worth picking up.
on November 17, 1999
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.
on June 26, 2001
If The Longest Day isn't the best depiction of D-Day, at least it is the most comprehensive. It shows not just the landings on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno beaches, but also the airborne landings made by the 82 and 101 Airborne Divisions, Glider assualts, The participation of the french underground and the actions of the german forces. It has great cinematography (Which is probably why it won an oscar for Black & White Cinematography). The musical score (Especially the theme played during the credits) is very good. It is also very accurate. For example, if you think the people depicted in the movie aren't real, Most of them were interviewed for the book by Cornelius Ryan and, if you look at the end credits, you will see some served as technical advisors It is also nice that people speak their native language, not just all English. Besides, subtitles are better than dubbing.
But it is in the action and acting departments that TLD succeeds. Sure you can tell that the AA Gunfire used against the planes are just pyrotechnics and that the planes themselves are models, but the action scenes for the D-Day landings and for the combat that takes place in the towns between French and German forces is spectacular. As for stars, a total of 42 of them make appearances, if only briefly. They include John Wayne, a colonel in the 82nd Airborne who fights despite a broken ankle, Henry Fonda as General Theodore Roosevelt Junior, Richard Burton as an RAF officer, Robert Mitchum as General Norman Cota, Red Buttons as the private who gets caught up on a Church during an air drop, Robert Wagner as an Army Ranger and Sean Connery as french Private Flanagan. Some complain about The Longest Day's lack of bloody violence and how it does not show how awful D-Day was. This movie came out in 1962. At this time, censors were not so leant on movies like they are today. Also, it was felt that audiences would not want to see violence similar to what happened on D-Day. And it was not yet possible to recreate that kind of gore (Unless you really had the actors get killed).
Thus, The Longest Day does not show the horror of D-Day but instead shows how D-Day happened and the blunders made by both sides. Saving Private Ryan shows the horror of D-Day but not how it happened and none of the planning that went into it. So If I were to choose, I would take the epicness of The Longest Day.
on December 30, 1999
This is truly the best war movie of all time. Nothing compares, and nothing ever will. This excellent film shows the entire D-Day invasion, from all sides. This movie shows everything. ALL the beaches are covered, as well as 'lesser known' but equally important battles like the landing on Pointe Du Hoc, the battle at the Orne River Bridge (Pegasus Bridge), and a lot about the paratroops that landed. Who needs gory violence. Most people don't know anything about D-Day but after watching something like Saving Private Ryan they'll think D-Day was a bunch of soldiers getting blown apart on a beach. Unlike SPR, this movie shows, in detail, all the events from the commanders' point of view. Very good adaption of the Cornelius Ryan book. If your someone who has just watched Saving Private Ryan, and wants to know what the hell D-Day was really all about, than watch this. Very educational.
Take your "Saving Private Ryans", your "Big Red Ones", your "Band of Brothers"', put them together; they'll never match the excitement and apparent authenticity of this 1962 gem. Unlike "Ryan", which followed a powerful subplot, "TLD" relies on the experiences of the average soldiers, the resistance fighters, and leaders (both Nazi and Allied) in a chronological retelling of the D-Day Invasion itself. Eisenhower is seen making the final decision to invade; Rommel leavinig Normandy because he knows the Allies would never land in the rain. In other words, this film tells the whole story, American, British Commonwealth, German, and French. Those who complain that this seems too broad a brush with which to paint would be surprised at how well Zanuck knit the various scenes together, in part because of the comeraderie built among the allied troops and their leaders.
It is true that "Ryan" showed a bloodier, and therefore probably more war-like, beach landing, but once again this is due to different motives: Speilberg's, to bring our emotion around the suffering of the main characters; Zanuck et al to show the events of the war in a human context, without being glib. And the black and white shots make it more family-friendly.
"Patriotic" films, especially from former decades, tend to portray the enemy as cartoonish or monstrous; TLD is not one of those films. The German characters are portrayed as human; their place in the film seems to illustrate the tragic mistakes their leaders have made in their plans, not to show us how "bad" Germans were. (This was not a film designed to explore the horrors of the Nazis' extracurricular activities; but it does not give a sense of avoiding them).
The French and German characters speak French and German, not English with French and German accents, and not bad French and German. In many cases German actors portray the Nazi leaders and soldiers at the beach.
And who can beat this film for it's star-studded glory? Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Sal Mineo, Eddie Albert, Paul Anka as a Ranger scaling Pointe du Hoc, Sean Connery, Richard Burton...Red Buttons has the unenviable job of playing paratrooper John Stele, 101st Airborne, who ended up with his chute caught on a church steeple, German gunfire all around him. (The church in Ste. Mere Eglise still has a "dummy" chutist hanging there to memorialize Steele, who died in 1969, as well as stained glass windows telling the chutists' story). In one of the neatest twists, British D-Day vet Richard Todd, a screenstar there, plays Maj. Richard Howard. One wonders where Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart was at casting time...maybe he was already too busy with "Cheyenne Autumn" or "How the West Was Won." Regardless, if you like American film from this era, you're sure to find one or two of your favorite male actors here.
The DVD is nice for its letterbox view, and the trailers are fun to watch. This year marks the 60th anniversary of D-Day. If you and your family are looking for media that teaches accurately the important events of that pivotal day, this one is highly recommended.
on July 9, 2001
The comparisons are of course between THE LONGEST DAY and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The only similarities are: both movies depict the allied landings at Normandy on D-Day, they are tributes to the servicemen of WWII, and most importantly, both are good movies. That said, general comparisons are unhelpful because the realism that made Spielberg's movie so memorable is totally absent from THE LONGEST DAY; for two very good reasons: (1) technically, the capability was unavailable in 1962 and (2) morally, that level of graphic violence would have been unacceptable. Also, Mr Zanuck, as director, did not want to make bloody messes of his numerous stars.
Realism aside, on its own merits THE LONGEST DAY is a tribute that has stood the test of time. The huge collection of stars (over 40) and the near 3 hour length qualifies it as epic. On an emotional level, it is a patriotic salute to the soldiers who went ashore. With a scope larger than Omaha beach, the focus is not exclusively American; the movie depicts the role of the British, and other allied troops, as well as the work of the French resistance. German dialogue is subtitled to add some realism. Perhaps the best aspect of the movie is that as an adaptation of Cornelius Ryan's book of the same name, it is based on a historically accurate account of the battle.
For realism, patriotism, and a sentimental heroic story, only partially based on real events of D-Day, watch SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. For an old fashioned, "clean" war movie based on history with good acting (Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Curt Jurgens) watch THE LONGEST DAY. Better yet, view both, just don't spoil the experience with a lot of comparisons.