September 14th, 2009

THE LONGEST DAY (1962) ** ½

It took three directors of three different nationalities to film this huge-ass star-studded war movie.  The Longest Day recreates D-Day in intricate detail and focuses on several groups of soldiers on all of the major fighting fronts.  However, the undertaking itself is ultimately more is impressive than the actual results.


At almost three hours, it’s tempting to be a smartass and call The Longest Day The Longest Movie.  That would be too easy.  The Longest Day knows that it’s a sprawling big budget war movie.  The problem is that it’s just too sprawling for its own good.  The film features an international cast of hundreds; from John Wayne to Henry Fonda from Richard Burton to Robert Mitchum.  It even has Paul Anka and Fabian in it for Christ’s sakes!  The thing is that none of them ever really get enough screen time to make you care about their characters.


I understand the filmmakers’ crusade for authenticity but you have to draw the line somewhere.  I’m sure a lot of viewers will relish the film’s obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.  I’d rather say that it’s meticulous to a fault.  For example, I liked how all the major characters were introduced alongside of their name, rank, and serial numbers.  By (literally) the 40th time a new character was introduced, it got pretty old and I gave up trying to remember who was who.  History buffs should eat that shit up though.


I also could’ve done without all the scenes where the Germans sit around and scheme.  Not because I had to read all those damn subtitles, but because they just slowed the movie down to a crawl.  If they had been excised from the final print, The Longest Day would’ve been a much tighter film.  I could have also done without Sean Connery’s turn as a blithering comic relief Scottish soldier too.


For a three hour movie, the film is kinda light on action, and when it does come, it’s usually in short bursts.  Most of the screen time is spent on generals barking orders and soldiers sitting around waiting to fight.  Thankfully, what action we do get is effective and tense.  Particularly suspenseful is a scene where a scared soldier anxiously waits to hear the “two clicks” signal from a comrade in arms.  There is also a great POV shot of an incoming paratrooper flying into a war zone too.  Of the major battle sequences, the Normandy invasion (led by Robert Mitchum) was probably the best and John Wayne’s portion of the film was a close second.  (The scene where he finds bodies of dead soldiers hanging from the trees is memorable.) 


The Longest Day isn’t entirely successful, but it certainly had moments of excitement, energy, and poignancy.  Still, it’s a long slog.  Your ass will be numb as Hell by the time it’s all over, that’s for damn sure.