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“Damn the torpedoes.” “Remember the Maine!”
“Remember the Alamo!” was the refrain
Of the boys and the men
Who fought time and again,
Who offered their country their blood and their pain.

And on June the sixth of 1944,
Such men charged the beaches of Normandy’s shore.
They leaped from the sky
Knowing well they could die,
And waded through carnage that had been their corps.

The weather unfriendly, the Germans less so,
The struggle brought many a foe and friend low.
The Allies that day
Put their grit on display,
And paid a debt we who are living still owe.

MPAA rating: G (should be at least PG)

About two years ago, I reviewed Saving Private Ryan, one of that year’s Blindspots, so it seemed only fitting to review another Blindspot pick about D-Day on June 6, the day the world was saved by the Allied forces. The Longest Day may be an older film, but its re-creation of the struggle on the beaches of Normandy is more expansive than Spielberg’s and well worthy of being ranked among the great war movies of all time.

While Saving Private Ryan had a focused plot with developed characters, The Longest Day is much more concerned with the broader history of the D-Day landings: the cautious planning, the German belief that no invasion would come that June, the watching of weather reports, the confusion of battle, and the plethora of individual stories, most of which have a basis in truth. At nearly three hours long, it might have been called The Longest Movie, yet it’s rarely boring. It may take two thirds of its runtime to reach the point that Saving Private Ryan begins, but it offers much more insight into the strategy and planning that went into the assault and the various efforts of the Americans, British, French, paratroopers, and French civilians, as well as the German side, all presented realistically with dialogue in their native tongue.

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Saving Private Ryan may be known for its battle scenes, but The Longest Day is no slouch either, depicting the invasion on an impressively epic scale. After the ships hit the beaches, there are a number of jaw-dropping aerial tracking shots that offer an incredible view of the battlefield, and without CGI, I can only imagine the work that went into creating such carefully orchestrated scenes. The fact that many of the cast and crew actually saw action on D-Day and contributed their first-hand accounts, along with many of those who are actually depicted in the film, only adds to the authenticity of the production, something no film in the future could hope to match.

The one thing The Longest Day doesn’t have is clearly defined characters, despite a cast jam-packed with stars of the day. It may have won deserving Oscars for its cinematography and special effects, but there’s a reason it didn’t get any acting nominations, simply because there’s not enough for any one actor to do.  John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Robert Mitchum are probably the biggest stars, but you’ll likely recognize the names or faces of Red Buttons, Jeffrey Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Rod Steiger, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, and Peter Lawford, to name only a few. With such a who’s who of talent, it was just a tad disappointing that we spend so little time with any of them, sometimes only a single scene, and don’t always find out what became of them. Yet this is a film about the events rather than the people (the name and rank labels are more for context than for actually keeping track of the characters), and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially with so many triumphant, sad, or ironic episodes throughout that are worth telling but don’t necessarily warrant a movie of their own.

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My own grandfather was among the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, and films like Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day really help me as a detached viewer to appreciate the sacrifices of what was truly the Greatest Generation. As for which film is better, I’m torn. Saving Private Ryan held much more visceral emotion but largely through extreme violence I usually steer clear of; for normal viewing, I think I prefer The Longest Day’s presentation of bloodless action that still denotes the grand and hellish reality of war. Both have their place, one raw and poignant, the other detailed and comprehensive, and I’m grateful to have finally seen both through this Blindspot series. One ship commander tells his men, “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.” Thanks in part to films like this, he’s absolutely right.

Best line: (said by both an American and a German, an insightful contrast) “Sometimes I wonder which side God is on.”


Rank: List-Worthy (tied with Saving Private Ryan)


© 2019 S.G. Liput
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