“You remember it. Remember every bit of it, ’cause we are on the eve of a day that people are going to talk about long after we are dead and gone.”
‘The Longest Day’, directed by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald and Darryl F. Zanuck in 1962, is an American war movie set around the D-Day landings of June 1944. The list of directors gives a sense of what this movie is like. ‘The Longest Day’ is a sprawling, episodic journey across the major events during Operation Overlord, spectacular, star-studded and, at times, poignant. It should feel disjointed – the flitting between locations and performances is jarring and you never stay in one place to get a feeling for the characters, but weirdly given the overall story it is telling this approach works. The Normandy landings were famously chaotic and depersonalised, driven by machines rather than people. It’s apt that a cinematic presentation of the events is similarly mechanical, the film flits between different textures of warfare and offers flashes of individual stories that appear and then disappear. It’s almost like a scrapbook of the campaign. For all this, the actors involved, a number of whom actually fought in the war and a few who fought in the campaign itself, give the film a feeling of being grounded and a sense of pathos. Strangely watching this felt like I was seeing a combination of a mechanised studio production such as ‘The Towering Inferno’, with special effects set-pieces and star performers, and Miklós Jancsó’s ‘My Way Home’, with its sense of restless wandering over a battlefield and moments of personal tragedy.
Would I recommend it? It’s sprawling, spectacular and surprisingly balanced. I’d watch it in a double bill with Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’, a film that narrates events at the opposite end of the war.