Friday, May 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Longest Day (1962)

It's the start of Memorial Day weekend, and with the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaching on June 6th, I decided to watch THE LONGEST DAY (1962).

It was my very first time to watch this D-Day epic, which does an admirable job pulling together the events and major personalities involved in that momentous campaign. As I watched the fictional version of one of the most significant days in world history, I could only marvel at the amazing bravery of the real men who selflessly gave everything so that we could live free.

This 178-minute film, which shows D-Day from the perspective of both the Allied forces and the Nazis, had three main directors: Andrew Marton for the American sequences, Ken Annakin directing the British, and Bernhard Wicki filmed the German scenes. The principal cinematographers were Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz. The screenplay by Cornelius Ryan was based on his book.

Three dozen or more recognizable faces appear in the movie. While I didn't look at IMDb in advance so that I could enjoy the surprise of seeing who would turn up, at the same time the film does a good job not turning into simply a parade of celebrities. The actors make the most of their sometimes brief roles, leaving indelible impressions, from Sean Connery's jovial Private Flanagan to Kenneth More's "Beach Master" (he took a dog to D-Day?) to Henry Fonda as Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt Jr., insisting on leading the assault on Utah Beach while using a cane. (My husband told me that Teddy died of a heart attack just a month later.) That the film achieves some real depth in terms of its portrayals of events and people is quite an achievement given how much ground it covers.

Four actors made particular impressions on me. The first was Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota, one of the highest-ranking officers at Omaha Beach. Mitchum is simply wonderful as the cigar-chewing Cota, whether encouraging a young soldier to retrieve his rifle -- later that morning he sees the soldier with his rifle and says "Good for you, son!" -- or rallying his troops to find a way off the beach. With every action Mitchum showed why Cota was a general. It's a wonderful performance and a great tribute to a heroic man.

Jeffrey Hunter, as a young engineer helping to blast open an exit from the beach, is likewise especially memorable, whether discussing the "Dear John" letter he recently received or leading the way after General Cota promotes him to Lieutenant while under fire.

John Wayne plays Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, who continues to lead his men despite a broken leg. His expression when he sees the dead paratroopers hanging from trees at Sainte-Mere-Eglise is simply unforgettable, and one more reminder of Wayne's superb acting talent.

This is a good point to mention that while THE LONGEST DAY makes the massive casualties of D-Day quite clear, it does so without gore. My imagination was more than enough to fill in the blanks, and I would venture to say that John Wayne's expression when he arrives at Sainte-Mere-Eglise had a more profound impact on me than all the bloody bodies filmmakers like Steven Spielberg would choose to show in later films.

British actor Richard Todd could actually have played himself, as he was one of the real heroes of D-Day. Todd was one of the very first men to parachute into occupied France that day, where he was one of the first paratroopers to meet Major John Howard's glider force at Pegasus Bridge. Todd portrays Major Howard in the film. The two men are seen together in this photograph.

The vast cast also includes Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Eddie Albert, Robert Wagner, Richard Beymer, Peter Lawford, Richard Burton, Curt Jergens, Mel Ferrer, Leo Genn, and Alexander Knox.

THE LONGEST DAY is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. It was also released on VHS, and most recently it's just been released on Blu-ray. It can be rented for streaming via Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger Unknown said...

This is one of my fave war pictures! Wgat a cast, and the filming is appropriately gritty. Honestly, the details are blurry, as it's been maybe over thirty years since I saw it last. I think my Amazon wishlist just grew by one. Thanks for the inspired reminder. :)

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

5:58 PM  
Blogger  said...

I was extremely excited to see familiar faces. I actually shouted "Sean Connery" and "Mel Ferrer"!!
I was thinking about this movi this morning, while doubting if John Wayne went to the front during the war.
Wayne, Mitchum and Fonda gave th best performances, in my opinion.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Let's face it--classic film lovers don't need a lot of gore or a lot of explicit anything, while later moviegoers seem to want these things and filmmakers are quite zealous in obliging.

It sounds like it's OK to follow this blog and dislike Steven Spielberg (I don't say I've never liked anything he's done but but precious little from the awful RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK on--that heavy, graceless pastiche of great matinee adventures left me cold). There are saving graces here and there in his body of work but I believe they are few--never was there a more overrated director anywhere on the planet. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was even worse than most of his others.

THE LONGEST DAY is a movie I never got back to after seeing it when it came out, probably because it's a long chunk of time so will just have to know I want to spend it. But the many times I've seen bits and pieces on TV have made me feel I'd like to see it through again, and your piece did too. So maybe this year would be a good time.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Clayton, I hope you'll enjoy revisiting it!

Le, I agree that the actors you mentioned were all excellent.

Blake, I'd be most interested in your impressions if you revisit THE LONGEST DAY. The film had a definite impact on me, as I find myself revisiting certain moments in my mind's eye 24 hours later.

So true about classic film fans not need things to be explicit in any form!

Interested in your take on Spielberg -- some of his earlier work like E.T. and yes, especially RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK really connected with me, but it's quite rare for me to be interested in his films in recent years. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL was entertaining but ultimately forgettable, but I did like LINCOLN. The only other Spielberg film I've seen in the last quarter century is THE TERMINAL (2004). Given that viewing track record you can see that I'm rather in sympathy with your point of view. :)

Best wishes,

6:39 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

We will just have to disagree about RAiDERS (as you'd expect I skipped both other Indiana Jones movies). Any contract director at Republic did these kinds of things better--William Witney would certainly have done better--and they were a lot more fun. It was not only glib but facetious for me--in order to make these movies entertaining, you have to take them seriously within what they are. Spielberg doesn't know how to do this. And I'm not so sure about George Lucas, either, though I loved his AMERICAN GRAFFITI.

And yes, of course I know, these two guys made the American Cinema what it became and to a great extent still is today. But I'm not inclined to celebrate that.

The only Spielbergs I liked overall were his first four theatricals-SUGARLAND through 1941 (a flop, but for me it was his best film). I liked them within reason and am not at all inclined to go back.

After the one-two punch of MUNICH and belatedly watched A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE I felt I had no more time for Spielberg and stopped seeing his films. But I made an exception for LINCOLN. It was easy enough to take, and I very much liked the cinematography in that one, but I can't see there was anything great about it. It was obvious and loudly declared his intentions of making a "great film" (something he's done other times too). while Daniel Day;-Lewis practically wears a sign that says "Great Actor" even though it's hard for him to just settle in and BE the character. Well, not to jump all over it. It's sure no YOUNG MR. LINCOLN.

For that matter, Lew Landers was in every way a and film for film a better director than Spielberg.
Ambition and stylistic overkill mean nothing to me--it's what one does with a movie that counts.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Yes, I should have added:

1) we probably don't see him very differently overall.


2) I also liked his TV movie DUEL before those first four theatrical ones.

And I'm also conscious I didn't provide any criticism that I myself would consider in any way nuanced in what I said. It was a generality, though I think a true one.

So, I'll get just a little more specific and anyone interested can watch his films with this in mind and see if what I say seems valid.

All of the great directors have a personal style that they have created, one made for cinema, and we appreciate them for this. I'm talking about Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock as obvious examples everyone knows and most appreciate. But they do not constantly proclaim this personal style--their first concern is working with and expressing the material, engaging us with the story, making the actors believable in that world. They are never afraid to be simple and often are.

By contrast, Steven Spielberg never lets us forget he is directing--he wants us to constantly marvel at his virtuosity. Camera movement is always a little more flashy than it needs to be, compositions more self-consciously dramatic than they need to be. And instead of letting special effects work for a film in a truly effective way, he wants us to just be in love with them and see them as a kind of magic in his hands.

There is a sensibility that does hand in hand with all of this that I don't react well to either--it would take a little more prose to get into that than I have in me right now, but it bears some thought too, and is very consistent.

It's all very unappealing, at least to me. And I hope I will be forgiven these negative posts--which is not what I enjoy and don't really want to do--but I've spent enough time with his movies and seen his tremendous influence over cinema enough to be deeply resentful.

And in any event, it won't matter what I say. He can take care of himself and his reputation and he always has.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake,

Thanks for taking the time to leave more detailed thoughts on Spielberg. I've felt that many of his films have a kind of artificiality - maybe I've been picking up on the "not letting you forget he's directing" which you describe.

RAIDERS will always be special to me, especially my memory of seeing it with a packed house and no preconceived notions at a preview one week before it opened. What a roller coaster ride! But when I think of it, what I remember most fondly are the lead actors, Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, and John Williams' spectacular score. which combined with Ford's laconic humor makes the movie. That said, since I liked the movie so much I have to give Spielberg credit.

Unfortunately he then went out and made INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM which was pretty much unwatchable, I spent most of the movie staring at the theater floor. It's not for nothing that that movie led to the PG-13 rating...we were talking about gore in modern movies, there's your example.

I really liked Spielberg's mirror families in E.T. and POLTERGEIST -- a sad family made happy and a happy family made sad -- but I'm no longer able to handle watching POLTERGEIST for a host of reasons, from being too far off the creepiness scale for me now to the child in danger, something that bothers me as a parent which I could handle as a teenager. DUEL was pretty good too.

So...yeah. Liked LINCOLN and thought it a good movie, particularly compared to so much of what's out there these days -- yet I don't foresee myself watching it over and over as I have YOUNG MR. LINCOLN over the years.

My youngest son loves quite a bit of Spielberg's stuff, such as JURASSIC PARK, but just not my cup of tea. Given the choice of watching Spielberg's filmography versus Lew Landers' filmography, no question which one I'd pick, LOL.

Best wishes,

9:36 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Couldn't agree much less about the Spielberg remarks. Other than HOOK and the 2nd and 4th Indiana Jones films, his movies have ranged from okay to great. It does "classic cinema" no good to deny the talents of those working after 1960.
And Daniel Day-Lewis's performance in LINCOLN was one of the least "actor-y" performances ever. I felt that I'd actually had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with Abraham Lincoln.

As for the gore-free carnage of THE LONGEST DAY vs. the blood'n' guts of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN -- it's certainly more pleasant to not see the blood, and I understand that sometimes heroic stories need to be told in that way. But Spielberg's version, while hard to watch, is truer and more real. THE LONGEST DAY may inspire us with the heroism of those men, but SAVING PRIVATE RYAN forcefully reminds us that war is an ugly, hateful thing -- a thing to be avoided. We can honor the heroes, but sometimes it's nice to do so while not encouraging the next war.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I'll have to differ with Blake about "RAIDERS..." too. I found these Spielberg/ Indiana Jones films a breath of fresh air and an attempt to really entertain when that factor seemed to have fallen out of fashion.

Fully agree though with the comments about the lack of the need for explicitness. The classic era managed to shock when needed but without revolting you at the same time. Those old directors really understood "less is more". Films were shorter and tauter too.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I think you raise a point where I have to give Spielberg his due -- growing up as a kid of the '70s it was a vast wasteland in terms of good films for kids and teens to see. That all changed with the original STAR WARS films (a series I will always think brilliant, though at times despite Lucas rather than because of him), SUPERMAN, and the early Spielbergs like RAIDERS and E.T. There was suddenly joy in going to the movies again and plenty of well-made films for younger viewers. That's an important context to remember, even if Spielberg's titles of the last couple decades have left me mostly uninterested.

Rick, I don't think anyone is denying the talents of anyone working after 1960 specifically because they're from the modern era, but it's more about preferences for certain styles and filmmakers over others.

In terms of watching "blood and guts," well, that's not why I go to the movies, and such scenes have the unintended effect of making me more upset with the filmmaker than the situation they depict. I prefer a more subtle approach making the same profound points. I haven't been able to shake the look on John Wayne's face in THE LONGEST DAY, and that's all I needed to bring home the horror of war.

Thanks to all for engaging in an interesting discussion!

Best wishes,

9:47 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Rick, I don't deny the talents of those working after 1960. I love many directors in modern cinema, but Spielberg is simply not one of them. I assume you would agree we don't have to support anyone just on the basis of their popular reputation.

Re comments about war films, I think all great war films have always shown the full weight of tragedy of war. Even films made during wars (like WWII movies made then), if they are good, do not take death lightly and put courage and sacrifice in a deeper perspective. I didn't perceive Spielberg as being more mature, for all the gore, and maybe a lot less.

You may have Malick's THE THIN RED LINE which came out at the same time. To me this had the reflective tone that I respond to--someone I know referred to it as the "anti-SAVING PRIVATE RYAN" and that speaks for me.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

That was "You may have seen Malick's…"

10:54 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Françoise Gondrée
Fondatrice, Présidente

1:17 AM  

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