Once again inspired by watching Ken Burns’ The War, we watched The Longest Day (1962) a dramatization of the D-Day invasion. Its a long film with a mammoth cast that appears to be trying to tell the entire story of D-Day from every angle all at once. Despite some typical Hollywood hokiness, The Longest Day does a good job of sticking to the story. Every character speaks his/her native tongue and typical stereotypes are avoided, although each nationality is colorful in their own way: the French are rather nutty, the Germans are arrogant and dismissive of the Allies even as they’re losing the battle, the English are eccentric, and the Americans are goofy in an aw-shucks kind of way. The film tries to be accurate in depicting the invasion to the smallest details but they do leave out one of the most interesting parts to me, when the naval captains disobeyed orders and brought their ships dangerously close to shore to provide artillery cover for the landing forces. The film has some great film sequences including a tracking shot over the beach that must have needed thousands of well-coordinated extras.
The Longest Day’s cast is full of the top American and European actors of the day, although I think I’d have trouble picking them out even if I knew who all of them were. Some big name actors like Henry Fonda are basically reduced to one-scene walk-ons due to the massive scale of the film. One of the stand-out performances is Kenneth More as Colin Maud standing on the beach with his bulldog encouraging British shoulders by telling them “the war is that way.” Similarly, Robert Mitchum rallies the troops on Omaha Beach as General Norman Cota. John Wayne has a big part as paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort and plays it in the typically corny John Wayne manner (ducks as John Wayne fans come in to defend the Duke). One performer, Henry Grace, was not an actor at all but cast merely because he resembled Dwight Eisenhower. It’s a pity that they did not go through with the plan of having then-former President Ike play himself.