Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Longest Day - Assault on Quistreham

So I finally got around to watching the D-Day Invasion epic The Longest Day (1962). This is one of those massive Hollywood epics that you probably couldn't make nowadays, not for any technical reason, but because you couldn't pay all the stars their contractually obligated wages, since this movie is almost a Who's Who of veteran tough guy actors.

I had only seen parts of this three-hour long war extravaganza before, snippets on TV or online. Last night was the first time I sat down and watched the whole thing from beginning to end. In my mind, despite being made almost 50 years ago, this movie stands toe-to-toe with Saving Private Ryan or any other war movie made after it's release. Yeah, maybe the "special effects" are dated, and yeah, maybe guys clutching their chests and spinning to the ground when killed isn't as "cool" as a CGI explosion of blood and gore out of someone's chest, but this movie is a MASSIVE undertaking; there were over 23,000 extras in the production of this film, and with a budget of ten million dollars, it was the most expensive black and white movie made up to that point (and the highest grossing).

One of the scenes that really stood out for me is the Assault on Quistreham by the No. 4 Commando, and especially the 177 men of the 1st Batallion of Fusiliers Marins Commandos who were part of No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, who were given the honor of being in the first wave to assault Sword Beach, coming home to defend their country and drive out the Nazis. This scene, with it's almost two-minute long single aerial shot of dozens of commandos fighting and dying along the riverway of Quistreham, riddled with machinegun fire and bombarded by shells, is as "epic" a war moment as anything in SPR, Lord of the Rings, or any other "big battle" war movie. If you've never seen it, here it is:

I think come June 6th I'd like to do another post about The Longest Day, but for now, I'll leave you with this clip to whet your appetite.


David Cranmer said...

My heart races watching this scene. I'm thinking I will post this vid when June 6th rolls around.

The Daring Novelist said...

You know that movie always surprises me. At a glance there's a static, quiet, almost stodginess to it, but it's extremely hard to stop watching right from the start.

Hulu had it available for a long time (maybe still does). I had not seen it in a very long time. I clicked on it to watch a little while I made a snack, and ended up watching the whole three hours, standing up in my kitchen, squinting at my computer screen.

Jack Badelaire said...

Glad you guys liked the post. I had only seen tiny pieces of the movie before, and to see it from start to finish was a blast. It really lays out the immense scope of the invasion, and I think actually covers it better than Saving Private Ryan.

Machine Trooper said...

I'm glad others are discovering this epic. Despite it's flaws (dated FX, perhaps too much indulgence shown to some of the stars), it is still, hands down, my favorite war movie of all time. Saving Private Ryan did a nice job reenacting the horrors of Omaha Beach, but the story the respective filmmakers were trying to tell were different. Longest Day is easily the more technically/historically accurate.

Like you, I had only caught snippets of it in my childhood (usually the scene where the nuns march across open ground during a firefight to tend the wounded for some reason, and EVERY time I catch Von Ryan's Express, it's the scene at the very end with Frank Sinatra running after the train). Then when I was 15, I watched the whole movie through from beginning to end. To say it made an impact on me would be the understatement of a lifetime.

Daring Novelist mentioned the "static, quiet, almost stodginess" of the final cut. After I had watched it through several times, I began to take notice of the minimalist musical scoring. I thought the dominant drums were a brilliant touch. Not just the military snare during scenes with the German High Command, but the crude echo of Beethoven's Fifth/V-for-victory in Morse Code. Kurosawa achieved a similar effect with drums as his musical score in films like Throne of Blood.

I may blog about this myself on the D-Day anniversary, but I look forward to yours, as well.

Hold until relieved.