The Longest Day may very well be one of the most expansive film projects in history. With four directors, five writers, and forty-two billed international stars, this is an unforgettable movie, and one that used its many stars to their full advantage.
The 1960’s were loaded with epics where directors took every big name star on the market and thrust them into a role. It may seem like that’s what was done here, but in fact, the casting was excellent, and no one looked out of place, especially the lead actors John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Henry Fonda.
There is also an amazing supporting cast, with actors from America, Britain, France, and Germany, which represented the four countries involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. It takes a whole paragraph just listing their names: Eddie Albert, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Sean Connery, Jeffrey Hunter, Peter Lawford, Roddy McDowell, Sal Mineo, Kenneth More, Robert Ryan, George Segal, Rod Steiger, Robert Wagner, and Stuart Whitman. Singers Paul Anka and Fabian also made appearances as American soldiers. The cast of Germans and French include Hans Christian Blech, Richard Munch, Bourvil, Werner Heinz, and Wolfgang Preiss.
Ken Annakin shot the British scenes, Andrew Marton shot the American scenes, and Bernhard Wicki shot the German ones. Darryl F. Zanuck produced the film and is often credited as a fourth director.
What was really special about this film was the fact that the characters from their respective countries spoke their native language, and subtitles were used on-screen. This was very rarely done by Hollywood back then, and films involving foreign characters were still shot in English, with the vernacular to be assumed by the audience.
The special effects are also top notch, and the battles scenes and cinematography were worth the Oscars they won. There are may distance shots of the battles scenes, with so much going on and this added to the realism of the movie.
Even with so many stars, this film really does not belong to anyone in particular. Wayne and Mitchum’s scenes were brief and spread out evenly throughout the course of the movie. Meanwhile, Henry Fonda recieved less time on screen than any of the top-billed stars.
It’s truly amazing to finish this movie and see the end credits role and see so many names whose faces you did not recognize. There are so many small scenes and cameos all around, that it could almost be made into a game with whoever you are watching this film with, to try and name who is on screen.
This film would work really well as a compliment to Saving Private Ryan, which is considered the definitive D-Day movie, despite it being only one scene at the beginning. Watching The Longest Day before watching that will help you to understand what went behind the largest invasion in modern warfare history. That’s why this movie is so great, because it is not just one big battle, but lots of dialogue explaining every mission involved, no matter how menial.
I will make my final rating a 9 out of 10, because I am still impressed at the special effects and star power every time I sit down to watch it.