Monday, September 8, 2008

Flick of the Week: "John has a long moustache"

Due to Olympics, and Question Time and my bout with the flu I haven’t done a flick of the week for a while; but for this week’s flick we link with Richard Beymer from West Side Story to The Longest Day.

The Longest Day is truly in the class of the “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” films. It is a gigantic undertaking that tries in 3 hours to cover every aspect of D-Day – from the American landings on Omaha and Utah Beaches, the British and French lands at Juno and Gold Beaches, and the paratrooper landings by both the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions. And while it’s at it, it also shows how the invasion was viewed from the German side as well. And amazingly it pulls it off.

Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan (he also wrote the book A Bridge Too Far – which was made into a much less successful film) the movie covers everything from Eisenhower deciding whether to launch the invasion to a private on a ship crossing the channel to the French resistance listening to the BBC radio for coded messages (such as “John has a long moustache”).

It’s so vast in its scope that it shouldn’t work – it should be a muddle of vignettes; a whole that is less than the sum of its parts. And yet The Longest Day is a great WWII film (and believe me I have seen a few of them).

The cast is amazing – John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner, Richard Burton, and of course Richard Beymer in the best thing he would do until he cropped up as Sherilyn Fenn’s dad in Twin Peaks. Most of those actors old enough to serve in WWII had actually done so (except John Wayne who was exempted because of his age, 34, and “family status” – though Henry Fonda was actually 2 years older), but the enterprise is not so bloatedly respectful as is the case with Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.

Instead it’s just good old fashion movie making that goes for the broadest canvas possible, while still enabling you to care about individuals. It’s great history (it follows the book quite closely) and best of all doesn’t seek to make it seem like the whole thing was done by the Americans alone.

While they don’t make ‘em like that anyone, thankfully they don’t make trailers like they did back then. As the following clip shows, they hadn’t quite mastered the art of whetting your appetite.

But don’t be put off; grab the DVD for $8 or so from the bargain bin and marvel at how Robert Mitchum can wade through chest high water, get shot at from all directions, survive, and still keep his cigar in his mouth.

Best line:
Flight Officer David Campbell: He's dead. I'm crippled. You're lost. Do you suppose it's always like that? I mean war.

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