Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Longest Day (1962)

"Cor, stone the crows!"

I'm not a particular fan of war films, but I'm not prejudiced against them either. After The Dam Busters and Battle of Britain it's time for this epic saga of D Day which, shockingly, is the first film I've blogged to feature John Wayne, Henry Fonda or Robert Mitchum. Those are three omissions I'm certainly glad to rectify.

John Wayne doesn't get all that much screen time as Colonel Vandervoort, but he dominates the film. He's sort of the David Bowie of acting (those are two names you don't often hear together!); Bowie has a restricted vocal range but sings well within that and is careful always to stay within his range; he's primarily a songwriter and musician, not Freddie Mercury- as "Under Pressure" demonstrates. John Wayne may not be the most versatile actor, and he has presence and charisma rather than talent, but in the right role he can be truly extraordinary. This is one of those parts.

Films like this don't always quite work (hello, Battle of Britain), feeling disjointed and lacking in spirit, but this film is both masterly structured and full of heart and pathos. Little vignettes like the American shooting a surrendering German and then asking what "Bitte, bitte" meant, or the poetic scene late on with the lost American soldier and the crippled and philosophical British parachutist whose painkillers are wearing off. It's a nice touch that the German and French characters speak in their own language with subtitles and, while the Canadians are insultingly  downplayed, both British and American forces get a lot of screen time, with the slight bias towards the USA being understandable because of Omaha Beach being the bloodiest and most dramatic.

It's a long film, but manages not to drag, balancing the large scale with the human experience well. The ending feels sudden, but I suppose that's realistic. A much recommended film.

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