|Dir:||Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Star:||John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Richard Todd|
|Cert / Year:||PG / 1962|
On the 6th of June 1944 the world witnessed the biggest military operation ever launched, it was the Allied invasion of Nazi Europe. Millions of men in thousands of ships and planes head for the highly defended beaches of Normandy in France to begin the process of defeating Hitler. This is their story. It is a story of Generals and infantrymen, a story of Commandos and civilians, a story of courage and of victory. For all those involved it was the longest day.
How on earth do you make a film that recreates the biggest invasion the world has ever seen? Ok so now you could use computer effects, but in 1962 you would have need an army to recreate the invasion. Then even if you could do it, how can you tell a story that includes over a million men? You could show it in overview and you have nothing more than a documentary, tell the story from the point of view of a few men and you lose the massive scope of the operation. It seemed like making this film would be nearly impossible, but studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck took the gamble.
The first problem that was surmounted was how do you tell the story of over a million men. Rather than concentrate on a few men a follow them through the invasion the choice was made to tell the story via a series of short vignettes that represent key moments in the invasion. These range from the glider assault on Pegasus bridge (the Orne river bridge as it was called then), to breakout from the bloody Omaha beach. Each interlinked short story either introduces us to some key historical figures, or some unknown soldiers that represent the actions of a key unit. It is an inventive way of telling a story and works beautifully managing both the deliver a fairly accurate representation of the battle and reveal some of the more human stories.
The production was always going to be huge and multinational so the decision was made to split the direction into three. The best section by far is the British and French sections shot by Ken Annakin, this include the awesome scene where the French commandos attack the town of Ouistreham. This single scene is fantastic being one single shot following the commando assault right through the town all the way to a heavily defended casino. The German scenes are mostly interior talky scenes and are handled well by Bernhard Wicki. The American scenes are possibly the weakest link. The Omaha beach assault is well done (but bettered years later in Saving Private Ryan) but the airborne scenes are often set based and are not effective. Fortunately these different styles come together well, mainly due to the episodic nature of the script.
This is one of those war movies with a cast list reading like a who's who of top actors at the time. With such a cast it is almost impossible to go wrong. I say almost impossible because John Wayne's swaggering cowboy performance is really out of place. It would appear he was cast for box office draw rather than suitability for the role. On the other hand Richard Burton is absolutely superb as a war weary fighter ace, and it is his closing comments that sum up the battle perfectly. Also delivering superb performances are Robert Mitchum, Heinz Reincke, and Richard Todd (who in real life took part in the actual battle he filmed). Also look out for an early performance from Sean Connery rather unconvincingly playing an Irishman.
It is a credit to Darryl F. Zanuck's vision that such a convincing recreation of the battles on D-day has been recreated. I say recreated because the special effects and stock footage have been used very sparingly relying instead on restaging the battles. The end result is best D-day movie ever made, and one of the best war movies of all time. There are faults with its lack of consistency as the film varies from awesome to average depending on the scene, but there are far more stand out moments than average ones. It would be inconceivable nowadays that such a wealth of talent could appear in one film (even if it exists) and this just adds to the epic scale of the movie. It would have been nice if the film had ended with Richard Burtonís comments instead of the more upbeat finale used but heck you can't have everything. This is a must see war movie on a scale unlikely to ever be repeated.
This is the day that changed the world. When history held its breath.
Flight Officer David Campbell: The thing that's always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer.
Flight Officer David Campbell: He's dead. I'm crippled. You're lost. Do you suppose it's always like that? I mean war.
|2.35:1 Anamorphic||Some print damage but it is clear and has good contrast.|
|Dolby Digital 5.1||Not up to much based around the orginal stereo mix.|
|The Main Feature|
|Brilliant making of documentary which is over an hour long|
|As good as such an old film is going to get really. Maybe it all could have fitted on one disc but it is a long film.|