Made while the Second World War was still fresh in the minds of a whole generation and with several of the actual combatants as technical advisors, THE LONGEST DAY is an epic and realistic retelling of the events leading up to, and eventual outcome, of the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944. Filmed in black and white (in fact, one of the very last war films to be so) and in a style similar to the archive news footage of the conflict, it certainly feels authentic - as highlighted by the German and French characters speaking in their natural tongues in scenes featuring subtitles.
The five Directors have been careful to tell the story from both the Axis and Allied viewpoints and as such the film retains an air of impartiality throughout. There are no heroes and villains, merely men and women struggling to survive in a war situation. We see the boredom of the Allied servicemen awaiting the final signal to go after so many setbacks, the belief of many of the German High Command that Normandy is an unlikely point of invasion, and the bitter squabbles of the officers on both sides over strategy.
The film boasts a magnificent collection of international screen stars, one of the largest ever assembled, which features everyone from RICHARD BURTON and CURT JURGENS to ROBERT MITCHUM and RED BUTTONS. Obviously this means that many have only brief cameo appearances - look out for SEAN CONNERY and GERT FROBE in their pre-GOLDFINGER days! - but with such a wealth of talent available a sure-fire hit was guaranteed.
Although the action scenes are a long time in coming - the first half of the three hours is largely used for character introductions and campaign planning - they are certainly worth the wait. From German fighter planes strafing the crowded beach-heads to the (ultimately futile) American Ranger assault on Pointe Du Hoc and the French Commando raid at Ouistreham (beginning with a brilliant, continuous overhead shot of the action), we are placed in the very thick of the fighting along with the troops.
Of course, those wishing for violence in the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN mould will be largely disappointed. These were the days before celluloid visionaries like SAM PECKINPAH upped the ante for screen deaths, after all, and bullets often merely result in men clutching their chests and falling over. Nevertheless, the battle scenes remain gripping and outstanding set pieces in their own right which viewers will remember long after watching the film.
There are moments of humour too (such as LESLIE PHILLIPS calling his Homing Pigeons "traitors" when they fly towards the German lines) and several emotionally charged incidents interspaced between the battle and bloodshed while surprisingly, all-American hard-man JOHN WAYNE does not even fire his rifle at all!
Extras-wise the DVD is very light despite being a two-disc package. There is an interesting documentary but other than this only a trio of trailers for the film itself, PATTON and TORA! TORA! TORA!. However, the overall high quality of the film more than makes up for the Extras shortfall and is thoroughly recommended.