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Snare drums and monochrome: another look at The Longest Day

Last week I did a reconsideration of A Bridge Too Far.  This week I figured it would be appropriate to review it's "prequel" about the Normandy invasion, The Longest Day.

Both films were based on books by Cornelius Ryan.  His method was to tell the story through personal recollections and to do this, he would post advertisements in papers seeking to contact war veterans and people who had first-hand knowledge of the events under study.  A small army of assistants sorted through the replies and then Ryan could sit down and do interviews, which also had to be cut down and fit into the narrative history.

This is why his catalog is somewhat limited.  Each book took many years to produce, and they were monster best-sellers.  The Longest Day follows this pattern, moving between the personal experiences of individuals to tell the story of the D-Day landings.  Like A Bridge Too Far, it is packed with Hollywood talent, and also includes Sean Connery - this time as an Irish enlisted man providing commentary on events.

Because it is black and white, The Longest Day can utilize actual combat camera footage to help tell the story.  It helps explain while this film is monochrome yet at the exact same time the same studio (Twentieth Century Fox) is producing the lavish and highly colorful Cleopatra.

Cleopatra famously almost bankrupted Fox, and it remains the most expensive movie ever filmed.  Yes, I know, there are a number of contenders, but they rely on inflated dollars to claim their crown - one must use constant dollars to make a true determination, just as one must do the same for box office tallies. 

Both Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell took bit parts in The Longest Day since Cleopatra's production continued to drag on and they were bored.

But back to our film.  The soundtrack is heavy on snare drums, and much use is made of the title song, which is whistled, blared by a full orchestra, and even tinkled on a piano in a pub. 

Still, it works.  It is quite long, but I would rate it as one of the more comprehensive "battle" films, and it has a number of amazing scenes, including one continuous take showing a French harbor being overrun via an overhead camera.  It is very impressive.

It also does a good job of showing the German point of view - better than A Bridge Too Far, in fact.  One element I didn't mention in my discussion of that film is that the German roles were greatly condensed, with important army and divisional commanders being dropped (and their lines given to other historical figures included in the movie).

To put it another way, if you know the source books, you'll notice more wrong with A Bridge Too Far than with The Longest Day.  Perhaps because it was closer to events, the earlier film took less dramatic license.

Both are well worth a watch.


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Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. - Patton movie.

The Longest Day - Allies win.
Bridge Too Far - Allies screw up.

Aside - Assuming the Longest Day is factually correct, why didn't the allies use smoke screens during the landings - particularly on Omaha Beach?

A.H. Lloyd

I believe they did, but smoke screens aren't always that effective.

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