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Longest Day, The (Fox 1962, John Wayne, Richard Burton)



Darryl F Zanuck’s masterly recreation of the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944 cost the then enormous sum of $10million to produce, making it the most expensive black-and-white film in the history of cinema. It also turned out to be one of the most financially successful – and finest – war movies ever made. Said The Times: ‘Viewed simply as an adventure story, The Longest Day is in many ways an epic film. Here are numerous scenes to which only the cinema could do justice, visually conceived and often admirably photographed. The strength of the film lies in its ability to depict the part played by the individual as well as by the troops as a whole.’

In depicting individual men in war as well as mass action, screenwriters Cornelius Ryan, on whose book the film was based, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall and Jack Seddon vividly examined D-Day not just in terms of the contributions of the British and American forces but also those of the German troops and of the French, with separate directors to handle the British, American and German sequences. The British contingent, spearheaded by Richard Burton, Kenneth More, Peter Lawford, Richard Todd (who was largely reprising the role he had played during the real D-Day landings), Leo Genn, John Gregson, Sean Connery and Jack Hedley, were skilfully directed by Ken Annakin.

The cast was made up of 54 stars from four countries and the film featured 167 speaking roles. Inevitably, the largest contingent, under the direction of Andrew Maton, was from Hollywood, headed by John Wayne, who held out for $250,000 for four days work. Other cameos came from Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, James Wagner, Richard Beymer, Mel Ferrer, Jeffrey Hunter, Eddie Albert, Sal Mineo, Edmund O’Brien, Tom Tryon, Red Buttons, Paul Anka, Roddy McDowall and Stuart Whitman. Bernhard Wicki directed the German contribution with a strong cast that included Curt Jurgens, Gert Froebe, Hans Christian Blech, Peter van Eyck and Wolfgang Preiss, and the French were represented by Zanuck’s then mistress Irina Demich, Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty, Jean Servais, Christian Marquand and Bourvil.

The battle scenes were coordinated by Elmo Williams and the entire film was supervised by Zanuck, who said: ‘We are making a very, very big film about a big occasion which affected all our lives. The French, the Americans, the British and the Germans all were equally involved in D-Day. In making a long picture I think it will be most refreshing to have different approaches to the various national sections so that there will be a clear cut difference between the French, the Germans, the Americans and the British. The battle sequences occupy about one third of the running time of the film, 35% to be exact. The rest of the picture involves the personal stories of the men on the Allied and German sides as well as the French population who was caught in the battle. I’ve had this checked and I found that 36% of our dialogue concerns the Americans and the British, 19% involves the Germans and 10% is taken up by the French.’

The sustained documentary-style direction of Annakin, Marton, Williams, Wicki and Oswald was exemplary, as was the crisp monochrome cinematography of Jean Bourgoin, Henri Persin, Walter Wottitz and Guy Tabary. Bourgoin and Wottitz were deservedly awarded the Academy Award for their work. A second Academy Award went to Robert MacDonald (visual) and Jacques Maumont (audible) for their impressively realistic special effects.

But, while in no way denigrating the individual contributions of the various directors, The Longest Day emerges very much as a producer’s film, although Zanuck also directed portions of the picture. Zanuck took more than nine months to make it (after more than six months of preparation, most of it concerned with the immense job of assembling props and equipment). Some 31 locations were used, most of them the actual D-Day battlefields along the coast of Normandy, and when it came to the recreation of the landings and the battles, Zanuck had a corps of 37 military advisors on hand. In addition some of the military leaders involved in the actual D-Day landings were involved, including British commando leader Lord Lovat, Major John Howard, who executed the glider landings at the Orne River Bridge, James Gavin, deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-­Day, and French commander Philippe Kieffer, who led the raid on Ouistrehan.

During most of the filming Zanuck had two full first-unit crews operating and, for some of the major sequences, he covered the action with six CinemaScope cameras running simultaneously. Zanuck reportedly told Lord Mountbatten, ‘I believe I have a tougher job than Ike had on D-Day – at least he had the equipment. I have to find it, rebuild it, and transport it all to Normandy.’ Although he neglected to mention that, unlike Eisenhower’s men, he was not under literal fire during filming, Zanuck’s achievement was nonetheless highly impressive.

The Longest Day, rightly nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, remains one of the finest war movies ever made. The New York Times stated: ‘The total effect of the picture is that of a huge documentary report, adorned and coloured by personal details that are thrilling, amusing, ironic, sad… it is hard to think of a picture, aimed and constructed as this one was, doing any more or any better or leaving one feeling any more exposed to the horror of war than this one does.’

production details
USA / Twentieth Century Fox / 169 minutes / 1962 Filmed in black and white

Writers: Cornelius Ryan, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, Jack Seddon (from the book by Cornelius Ryan)
Music: Maurice Jarre, Paul Anka
Cinematography: Henri Persin, Walter Wottitz, Pierre Levent, Jean Bourgoin
Producers: Daryl F. Zanuck, Elmo Williams
Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Darryl F Zanuck, Gerd Oswald

Eddie Albert as Col. Thompson
Paul Anka as U.S. Army Ranger
Arletty as Madame Barrault
Jean-Louis Barrault as Father Louis Roulland
Richard Beymer as Pvt. Dutch Schultz
Hans Christian Blech as Maj. Werner Pluskat
Bourvil as Le maire de Colleville
Richard Burton as Flight Officer David Campbell
Wolfgang Büttner as Maj. Gen. Dr. Hans Speidel
Red Buttons as Pvt. John Steele
Sean Connery as Pvt. Flanagan
Ray Danton as Capt. Frank
Pauline Carton as Maid
Armin Dahlen as Blumentritt’s Adjutant (uncredited)
Mark Damon as Pvt. Harris (uncredited)
Richard Dawson as British Soldier (uncredited)
Irina Demick as Janine Boitard (as Irina Demich)
Fred Dur as U.S. Army Ranger major
Fabian as U.S. Army Ranger
Mel Ferrer as Maj. Gen. Robert Haines
Frank Finlay as Pvt. Coke (uncredited)
Henry Fonda as Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt jr.
Steve Forrest as Capt. Harding
Bernard Fox as Pvt. Hutchinson (uncredited)
Robert Freitag as Meyer’s Aide (uncredited)
Bernard Fresson as French Commando (uncredited)
Gert Fröbe as Sgt. Kaffekanne
Lutz Gabor as Bit Part (uncredited)
Arnold Gelderman as German Guard on Traintreck (uncredited)
Leo Genn as Brig. Gen. Edwin P. Parker Jr.
Harold Goodwin as British Soldier (uncredited)
Walter Gotell as German soldier (uncredited)
Henry Grace as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (uncredited)
John Gregson as British Padre
Clément Harari as
Paul Hartmann as Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Ruth Hausmeister as Frau Maria Rommel (uncredited)
Jack Hedley as RAF Briefing Officer (uncredited)
Michael Hinz as Manfred Rommel (uncredited)
Werner Hinz as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Donald Houston as RAF Pilot
Jeffrey Hunter as Sgt. (later Lt.) John H. Fuller
Karl John as Gen. Wolfgang Hager
Curd Jürgens as Maj. Gen. Gunther Blumentritt
Til Kiwe as Capt. Helmuth Lang
Alexander Knox as Maj. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith
Peter Lawford as Lord Lovat
Wolfgang Lukschy as Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl (uncredited)
Christian Marquand as Cmdr. Philippe Kieffer (commando leader)
Roddy McDowall as Pvt. Morris
Sal Mineo as Pvt. Martini
Robert Mitchum as Brig. Gen. Norman Cota
Kenneth More as Capt. Colin Maud
Richard Münch as Gen. Erich Marcks
Edmond O’Brien as Gen. Raymond D. Barton
Leslie Phillips as RAF Officer Mac
Wolfgang Preiss as Maj. Gen. Max Pemsel
Heinz Reincke as Col. Josef ‘Pips’ Priller
Madeleine Renaud as Mother Superior
Robert Ryan as Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin
Dietmar Schönherr as Luftwaffe major
Ernst Schröder as Gen. Hans von Salmuth (uncredited)
George Segal as U.S. Army Ranger
Jean Servais as RAdm. Janjard
Hans Söhnker as Deutscher Offizier (uncredited)
Rod Steiger as Destroyer Commander
Richard Todd as Maj. John Howard
Tom Tryon as Lt. Wilson
Peter van Eyck as Lt. Col. Ocker (as Peter Van Eyck)
Vicco von Bülow as Pemsel’s adjutant (uncredited)
Robert Wagner as U.S. Army Ranger
John Wayne as Col. Benjamin Vandervoort
Stuart Whitman as Lt. Sheen