War movies are a dime a dozen, and it takes something pretty special to stand out in the crowd. The Longest Day is one such movie. It is the most expensive movie filmed in Black and White (with the exception being the much more recent Schindler's List from Steven Spielberg in 1993), and it won two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects) and was nominated for three others (Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Art Direction).
One June 6th 1944, the Allied Invasion of France marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination over Europe. The attack involved 3,000,000 men, 11,000 planes and 4,000 ships, comprising the largest armada the world has ever seen.
So this is a movie which focuses on one particular day in history, but rather then focus on a single character or single side of the war the movie does a brilliant job of telling the events of the day from the British, German, French and American sides. Indeed several directors were used to tell the different sides and against all odds the movie still turns out to be one seamless 3 hour long epic. Does it feel long? Not really. The movie has about an hours build up and then two hours of action which gives you time to learn the characters before they enter battle and meet their various fates.
Despite the fact that John Wayne often gets top billing for this movie, he plays only one small part in a brilliant ensemble cast with Fox now even billing the stars as "48 International Stars" (although it states 43 International Stars in the documentary). In fact the actors appearing in this movie are the who's who of Hollywood, British, French and German cinema and include the likes of John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Leo Genn, Peter Lawford, Kenneth More, Richard Todd, Gert Fröbe, Irina Demick, André Bourvil, Curt Jürgens, Robert Wagner and Arletty Bathiat. A brilliant cast, and each plays their roles, no matter how insignificant, perfectly.
The Longest Day is the 1960's equivalent to Saving Private Ryan. While it's no where near as violent or gruesome, when the battle starts and the soldiers storm the beach it's relentless. The scale of the battles are impressive. Two scenes in particular had us gob smacked - the first is the images of the plane flying along the beach strafing the soldiers below, and the second is a lengthy charge up to a well fortified casino. Both scenes give you a true understanding of the horrors of war.
The biggest issue with this release though is that the team responsible for encoding the disc have applied too much Digital Noise Reduction (DNR). Digital Noise Reduction is used to scrub away some of the dirt and grain from the image resulting in a "cleaner" picture. Indeed the picture is very clean and first impressions will likely blow you away. The problem with applying too much DNR though is that it also removes film grain and smaller details. Have a look at many of the actors faces in close ups and you won't find any detail - no stubble, no marks on their flesh, and little change in skin tone. Even Richard Burton, who doesn't have the smoothest of faces to be honest, looks fairly smooth in his few scenes in this release.
Other audio tracks on this disc include German and French DTS 5.1 tracks encoded at 768kbps. Both are pretty impressive efforts and sound pretty close to the English track, no doubt due to the original source material. Subtitles are provided in English, English, German, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Historical Commentary by Mary Corey: Now this is a great commentary track and the kind of which I would love to see on more "historical" movies. Mary provides plenty of insight into the movie and points out not only the accuracies, but also the inaccuracies to the real events. Fascinating stuff.
Commentary with filmmaker Ken Annakin: The last surviving of the four directors on the film (who sadly passed away on 22nd April 2009) discusses the making of this film in detail, as well as recollections of the actors and other directors. This is another great commentary on this disc.
A Day To Remember (17:52): This is a brilliant featurette with director Ken Annakin in which he details much about working with various cast and crew as well as working with the directors girlfriend. Such an insightful and delightful man to listen to with plenty of on-set footage and a hilarious story about the actors losing money from under their hats!
Longest Day: A Salute To Courage (43:46): This is a great retrospective documentary which looks at creating this epic movie including the pre-production, the 8 month shoot, and final release including Darryl F. Zanuck's battles with Fox Studios, the film studio which he founded 29 years earlier in 1933.
Backstory: The Longest Day (25:08): This is a featurette which focuses on 20th Century Fox founder and producer of The Longest Day Darryl Zanuck. It is quite an interesting documentary, which looks at one of Hollywood's most influential people in the mid-20th century and how he ended up making The Longest Day.
D-Day Revisited (51:51): This was a little disappointing to be honest, and is a look at Darryl Zanuck returning to the many locations in which the actual events and filming took place including interviews with some locals. There's also a little too much replaying of scenes from the movie.
Darryl F. Zanuck: A Dream Fulfilled (3:58): Richard D. Zanuck talks about his fathers dream of making the film. Short and a bit pointless given the other content on the disc.
Review By: Dave Warner