The classic war film is often debated. Perhaps the best of these
classics is “The Longest Day”, based on the book by Cornelius P. Ryan.
Ryan did the screenplay himself, a rarity in today’s film work. It also
ensured a very accurate adaptation of the book, which was arguably the
premier book on D-Day until Stephen Ambrose’s “D-Day.”
The major people focused here are on the American and British side.
Perhaps the face most people will recognize is John Wayne’s portrayal of
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort, a battalion commander from the
82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Brigadier General James Gavin.
Perhaps the most stirring performance is Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of
the inspiring leadership Brigadier General Norman Cota, the assistant
division commander of the 29th Infantry Division on Omaha Beach. Henry
Fonda portrays Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who received
the Medal of Honor for his performance at Utah Beach.
The operational plan in the movie is pretty close to that of the actual
operation. Many of the small details, like the rubber dummies used to
fake airborne landings and the crickets used to identify friend from foe
by American paratroopers, were used in this film. Some little details
were missed (a flight of A-1 Skyraiders flies overhead – a plane that
did not enter service until 1946, and the planes used in the German
attack on Juno were FW-190s, not the Me-109s the film portrayed). It
touches on nearly all of the key parts of D-Day. It cannot cover
everything in the space of three hours, but the high points selected
(the Orne River bridge assault led by Major John Howard and the American
landings at Utah and Omaha beaches, the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, and
the airborne attacks, with some coverage of the British landings) are
very good choices.
The film even shows the almost comedic elements that come in the chaos
of war, particularly in the airborne sequences. There is a chaplain who
loses his communion set (featured with the British), and there is also a
point where a group of Americans and a group of Germans walk right past
each other without exchanging fire.
The film accurately portrays the confusion of the Germans about the
whether the invasion was for real or a diversion, and it also shows the
relative ease of the attack at Utah (the wrong beach, a fortunate error)
compared to Omaha. This film is arguably the standard by which other
World War II war movies should be judged by. It tells the story, and
does not get distracted with any romantic sub-plot or political
preaching. It is available in DVD or VHS from Amazon.com. I highly
recommend it – it is arguably the film by which war movies of World War
II should be judged.