Judge Franck Tabouring went to Normandy several times as a child. Only later did he discover the real importance of the former French province.
This is the day that changed the world…when history held its breath.
Although the DVD cover of The Longest Day may suggest otherwise, Darryl F. Zanuck didn't direct the film, but he produced it. He certainly put a lot of passion into this big project, because the film received a massive $10 million budget and ended up winning two Oscars, for best cinematography and best special effects. Moreover, the film is advertised as featuring forty-eight international stars, including appearances by John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Robert Ryan, and even Sean Connery.
Facts of the Case
Based on a book by Cornelius Ryan, who himself served as a war correspondent during World War II, the film follows the events leading up to D-Day on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces launched their massive invasion of France at the beaches of Normandy. The film is presented as several episodes directed by three directors but edited together as one feature. Ken Annakin shot the British exterior scenes, Andrew Marton directed the American exterior episodes, and Bernhard Wicki helmed the German episodes.
I'm in no position to evaluate the accuracy of The Longest Day, but from a more cinematic perspective, I find it highly interesting that the film offers a look at both sides of the war, or more specifically, how the Allies and the Germans spent the hours leading up to the invasion. The story does not only focus on the Allied forces' preparations for the attack in Normandy, but it also jumps over to the other side and examines to what extent the Nazis analyzed the possibility of a possible invasion. On both sides then, the plot follows a horde of different characters who are all somehow involved in the imminent assault. As far as the Americans, British, and French are concerned, we see impatient soldiers waiting to engage in battle, generals looking for the best drop zones and members of the resistance gearing up to carry out their acts of sabotage. On the German side, the film portrays Nazi commanders who are not worried about an invasion and others who think it may be best to alert everyone.
Clocking in at 178 minutes, the film is a little too long. I completely understand that it takes time to show the two sides of an important battle, but select parts of the film could have been sped up a little. The real action kicks off only one hour into the film, and it takes about another 40 minutes before the soldiers actually storm the beaches. On the other hand, the first hour gradually builds the suspense as the Allies plan their attack, which is necessary to examine in detail if one is to understand the rest of the movie. Once the bullets start flying, The Longest Day turns into a pretty standard war flick, with loud shootouts dominating the plot. Although a little more monotonous, this second part is still fast-paced and entertaining, following several units who struggle to fight their way through the areas they've dropped off in. Shifting the action from the beach to several French towns and swamps injects the plot with additional variety. Also, for a film produced in 1962, the stunts and battles look astonishingly real and are often quite suspenseful, further increasing the level of entertainment.
Another thing I really appreciate is that everybody pretty much speaks in his or her native language in the film. The Germans speak German, the French speak French, and the Americans and British speak English, and English subtitles are provided throughout. In many films everybody speaks in broken English to make the film more accessible to audiences, but I think that just kills off the credibility. What's wrong with subtitles? I understand people don't want to read while watching a movie, but it's often worth the effort. Just think about how horrible foreign films would be if they were all dubbed in English.
Let me briefly say something about those forty-eight international stars. Sure, you'll recognize many famous actors from all over the world, but many of them have only minor roles. As I previously said, the film focuses on tons of soldiers throughout the entire movies, and only a few actors do have substantially larger roles than most. Sean Connery, for instance, pops up for a total of 10 seconds. Henry Fonda's Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. makes only a short appearance as well. Other than that, the cast members do a great job at accurately portraying their characters.
So how does a 1962 black-and-white war movie look in high-definition? One word: stunning. The 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is clean and sharp throughout, and while select scenes appear a little grainy, the overall picture quality is superlative for a Blu-ray release. The DTS HD 5.1 lossless audio offers a fabulous sound, and once the bombs start exploding and the bullets start flying, your speakers will turn your room into a battleground. Make sure to keep your remote close enough in case the neighbors come banging on the door.
This two-disc Blu-ray release is loaded with special features. The first disc includes two different commentaries, one with UCLA history professor Mary Corey and the other with Ken Annakin, one of the film's three directors. I have to admit I only listened to the two commentaries for about half an hour or so because of the film's long running time and my commitment to this review's deadline, but Corey and Annakin do reveal a whole lot of interesting information about a large variety of aspects in the film. Corey, of course, examines the movie from a historical point of view and also discusses the film's accuracy, while Annakin touches more on the technical aspects and the shooting. I'm sure historians and filmmakers alike will take great pleasure in listening to the two commentaries.
The second disc kicks off with "A Day To Remember," a great 17-minute conversation with director Ken Annakin, who passionately chats about everything from working with two other directors, working with the actors, choosing locations and setting up specific scenes. The bonus material also includes a 25-minute AMC documentary, which gives a little insight into producer Darryl F. Zanuck's career and his help in creating 20th Century Fox. This interesting piece also features interviews with cast members, who share their experiences about landing a role in The Longest Day. In "The Longest Day: A Salute to Courage," Burt Reynolds narrates a tribute to the men who fought in the actual war and those who decided to bring the story of D-Day onto the big screen.
Besides an original trailer and a stills gallery, this disc also includes a 4-minute interview with producer Richard D. Zanuck, who briefly honors his father's work. Wrapping up the special features section is "D-Day Revisited," a documentary about Darryl F. Zanuck's return to the beaches of Normandy in 1968, when he wanted to give viewers the opportunity to see how the area has changed since 1944. Watching footage from the movie mixed in with real images from Normandy is interesting for a couple of minutes, but this piece runs almost for an entire hour, which is clearly too long. Other than that, the special features won't disappoint.
Though a little too long, The Longest Day is an important film documenting an important day in world history. The Blu-ray version is definitely worth the investment, even if you're not that much into history.
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• Historical Commentary with Mary Corey
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