Directed by the trio of Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, and Bernhard Wicki, The Longest Day is a 1962 epic war film based on Cornelius Ryan’s book The Longest Day (1959), about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II.
The movie cost ten million dollars, the highest budget at the time for a black-and-white film. It details the buildup of American, British, Canadian, and French troops in England, explores the mindset of the German defenders in Normandy, and then covers key aspects of the “Operation Overlord” invasion from both sides.
The film features a large ensemble cast including John Wayne, Kenneth More, Richard Todd, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Steve Forrest, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, Eddie Albert, Jeffrey Hunter, Stuart Whitman, Tom Tryon, Rod Steiger, Leo Genn, Gert Fröbe, Irina Demick, Bourvil, Curt Jürgens, George Segal, Robert Wagner, Paul Anka, and Arletty. Many of these actors played roles that were essentially cameo appearances.
In addition, several cast members – including Fonda, Genn, More, Steiger, and Todd – saw action as servicemen during the war, with Todd actually being among the first British officers to land in Normandy in Operation Overlord and he, in fact, participated in the assault on Pegasus Bridge.
The film employed several Axis and Allied military consultants who had been actual participants on D-Day, and many had their roles re-enacted in the film. These included Günther Blumentritt (a former German general), James M. Gavin (an American general), Frederick Morgan (Deputy Chief of Staff at SHAEF), John Howard (who led the airborne assault on the Pegasus Bridge), Lord Lovat (who commanded the 1st Special Service Brigade), Philippe Kieffer (who led his men in the assault on Ouistreham), Marie-Pierre Kœnig (who commanded the Free French Forces in the invasion), Max Pemsel (a German general), Werner Pluskat (the major who was the first German officer to see the invasion fleet), Josef “Pips” Priller (the hot-headed pilot), and Lucie Rommel (widow of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel).
The Longest Day boasts both a visual spectacle and plenty of star power. Filmed at 31 separate locations, much of the film’s action was staged on actual D-Day battlefields, including the beaches of Normandy and the seaside town of Ste. Mère Eglise.
The film peaks with a French assault on Ouistreham, which is captured in one continuous aerial shot. This is a birdseye view -one-shot- that soars over the French troops and past enemy lines to show the heavy artillery they’re up against. When the camera cuts back to ground level, you know exactly why the French commander orders his men to fall back.
In another of the film’s most remarkable shots we get an aerial perspective of a German fighter strafing the shoreline the masterful staging of this event is clearly displayed as thousands of soldiers, ships and vehicles struggle to cross the blood-soaked stretch of sand.
The Longest Day earned both Academy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Black-and-White Cinematography, as well as an Oscar for Best Special Effects.
French assault on Ouistreham in The Longest Day (1964)
- The Longest Day is a sweeping World War II epic.
- It does what Saving Private Ryan tries to do, and succeeds in making it's message without blunting the emotional impact with sappy cliches and without over-glorifying the action.