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June 6, 1944: D-Day. Three million men, 11,000 planes and 4,000 ships set off at dawn from Englandís south coast, bound for Normandy. Their objective: to free France from Nazi occupation. As paratroopers drop inland to cut off German reinforcements, foot soldiers storm the beaches, taking heavy casualties in the process. It will be the longest of days, and for many it will be their last.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
Ah 1962! When epics really were epic. Heaven only knows how much a film like The Longest Day, with its "48 International Stars," scores of locations, troika of directors and massed battle scenes would cost to make today. Even with digital trickery now available to reduce the costs, the accountants would probably pull the pin before the film got out of the planning stage.

In The Longest Day we have a film so big it can take a legend of French wartime cinema like Jean-Louis Barrault and give him a bit part as a vicar. The film needs such massive bones for it carries the weight of history on its epaulettes. The Longest Day claims to be an hour-by-hour account of the way D-Day unfolded. No shortcuts are taken to speed things along, and there is no massaging of the truth to make things easier for the audience to follow. Major participants on both sides are identified by name rank and number, and each is given their due. At times the film feels more like a re-enactment than a drama. Itís wordy, worthy and for the first 45 minutes pretty damn dull. Thereís so much detail to convey to viewers that even high-ranking cast members like John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum are assigned exposition duties.

Once the invasion gets underway, things pick up markedly. Cornelius Ryan, adapting from his own book, still fills the script with redundant lines from the "Look, theyíre coming!" school of screenwriting, but increasingly the events are allowed to speak for themselves. The filmís finest moments require no speeches at all: The near-silent horror of an American paratrooper, hung up on a church spire, witnessing his unit being massacred as they mistakenly drop into an enemy-occupied town square; the elation of a French peasant, howling with glee at the sight of the advancing armada even as shells rain down upon his home. But it is the noisy storming of the beaches that form the filmís centrepiece. Steven Spielbergís Saving Private Ryan may have managed to better convey the horror of the Normandy landings, but nothing matches The Longest Day for sheer scale and Boys Own bravado. The high-contrast cinematography was a deserved Oscar winner.

The main special feature is a 50-minute documentary shot by producer Darryl F. Zanuck (a veteran of both World Wars) to mark the 25th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Intercutting scenes from the movie with footage of the spritely Zanuck wandering around Normandy, itís a quaint but welcome addition to the film. The super-producerís passion for his subject is undeniable and itís nice to see the region and its people at peace after the three-hour sensory bombardment of the main feature. The docoís ending, a retreating aerial shot of Zanuck surrounded by thousands of white crosses in a military graveyard, is enough to reduce the most gung-ho warmonger to tears.

Published January 24, 2002

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LONGEST DAY, THE (Special Edition) (PG)

CAST: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, Richard Todd, Rod Steiger, Red Buttons, Werner Hinz; Gert FrŲbe, Sean Connery, Paul Anka, Kenneth More, Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty, Roddy McDowall

DIRECTORS: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki

RUNNING TIME: 171 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 15, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen feature presentation in (original) black and white version; D-Day Revisited documentary; Theatrical trailer; Language: English 5.0. Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch, English for the hearing impaired.

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