World War II Marathon: The Longest Day (1962)

the longest day

Film #17 in the World War II Marathon!

Screenplay By: Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, Cornelius Ryan & Jack Seddon
Directed By: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki & Darryl F. Zanuck

Thus far in the marathon we have managed to avoid the big Hollywood epics about World War II, but with The Longest Day we finally have our first entrant from that category. I’m not opposed to epics in general, but only certain epics appeal to me, sadly The Longest Day is not such an epic. I understand what the movie was going for and it accomplishes some of it, but for the most part it feels like a staged play as opposed to an honest testament of D-Day. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but from the get go The Longest Day never feels honest or real, I kept thinking, “These are actors and you can tell they are looking to the right when told stage right, speaking loudly when told to speak loudly…”

I didn’t get off to a good start with The Longest Day, the opening hour is woefully uninteresting and could have been trimmed from the film wholesale. Once again, I understand what the directors were going for, but when you aren’t going to bother to actually delve deeply into any of your characters then I don’t need to see their thoughts before the invasion kicks off. This was also the period of the film where there were no less than six instances of horrendous rear screen projection. Sometimes I can look past bad rear screen projection, but The Longest Day coupled terrible looking rear screen projection with awkward editing during said RSP scenes and that I couldn’t look past.

At around the hour mark the film picked up steam somewhat. Once the paratroopers entered France and the invasion was under way The Longest Day became much more interesting. All the emotion the film had gone for in the first hour didn’t really matter because the film exists for the action documentary style film making found in the invasion scenes. These scenes were well put together, there were some rough patches sure, but on the whole the scenes within France and on the beaches captured what The Longest Day wanted to be.

I don’t know why the decision was made to have such a large cast and so many directors, but it isn’t a decision that pays off. The large cast wouldn’t have been a problem if the film didn’t strive to convince the audience that every character they highlighted mattered in some way. They don’t matter though because none of the attempts to make them matter come across as fully formed. This bleeds into the multiple directors, because there is a distinct vibe of four different films hastily welded together. The German scenes feel incongruous with the American scenes that feel incongruous with the British scenes, and so on and so forth.

I know that we have more epics on the way in this marathon, hopefully they will build on what The Longest Day did right and shuck the extra baggage to the side. There are some neat moments in The Longest Day and the beach invasion scenes are well done. This isn’t a full movie though, it contains too much play acting, bad rear screen projection and easily removable material. The Longest Day is a bit of a step back for the marathon, let’s hope the next film will get the marathon back on track.




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