Thursday, June 5, 2008

THE LONGEST DAY (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, 1961, USA) THE LONGEST DAY is about that Day of Days June 6, 1944. This ambitious project includes 42 major stars such as Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Richard Burton and Henry Fonda…to name just a few. It is gloriously photographed in black and white, which lends it the feel of a classic newsreel and makes for easier insertion of the stock war footage. Having too many stars is usually a recipe for disaster but it works fairly well with the exception of John Wayne’s chest-pounding Hollywood bravado. The story is told from different perspectives: from the German generals, French Peasants, Allied commanders, and the common grunts. There is really no central narrative to drive the film because its focus is on the events of that longest day and how they unfold. This is a dramatic representation as the actors spout Shakespearean monologues about the importance of this invasion and reflect upon their patriotism and sacrifices. It lacks the visceral impact of more recent war films because it lacks the gory details in both blood and emotional trauma. The choreography of the battle sequences is truly amazing when one realizes this was filmed before the days of CGI! I watched this on Blu-Ray and the depth of focus blew me away: there are details a thousand yards in the background as men rush the beaches, tanks roll, mortars explode, and debris litters every inch of the scenery. The great tracking shot on Omaha beach obviously inspired Spielberg because he “borrowed” it for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. There are a few great aerial tracking shots done without edits, the most impressive being the assault on Ouistreham as hundreds of men charge a fortified hotel as the germans loose anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and machine-gun fire at the Allied invaders. Impressive! The film smartly avoids the standard Nazi cliches as there is no Seig Heil Hitler prasing morons or Jew hating degenerates and the German generals are portrayed as despising Der Fuhrer. The bombastic rat-a-tat-tat of the snare drums underscores the building tension until it explodes in all its historical fury. I highly recommend this on Blu-Ray. (B+)

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