Saturday, June 29, 2013

SHOULD I READ IT? Winter in Wartime (2008)

                “Winter in Wartime” is a Dutch movie based on a young adult novel by Jan Teurlouw.  It was directed by Martin Koolhoven who decided to aim at a more mature audience than the book.  The film was a huge hit in the Netherlands and was voted movie of the year by the Dutch press. 

                The film is set in occupied Netherlands in January, 1945.  A British plane crashes outside a Dutch town and the surviving crewman is forced to shoot a German soldier who discovers him hanging from a tree that his parachute is ensnared in. A fourteen year old boy named Michiel (Martin Lakemeier) and his friend stumble upon the crash site and their faces evidence the excitement of teenage boys who see only the glamour of war.

                 The local town is divided between citizens who collaborate with the Germans and those who secretly work against them.  Michiel’s father is the mayor and he is in the group that tries to tolerate the Germans as a matter of survival.  This is contrasted by Michiel’s uncle Ben (Yorick van Wangingen) who is associated with the Resistance.  Although Michiel does not resent his father’s attitude, he clearly idolizes his uncle.  The movie avoids cliché by not putting Michiel in the middle of a struggle for his soul.

                Michiel’s teenage world is overturned when two friends are outed as Resistance members and Michiel is left as caretaker of the British airman Jack (Jamie Bower) who has been hidden in the forest.  Michiel is thrilled with the adventure of it all.  Michiel is forced to involve his sister Erica (Melody Klaver) because she is a nurse and Jack has an injured leg.  Naturally, romance develops.  Uncle Ben is also brought in because Jack has a package that needs to be delivered back to England.

Erica and Jack (no, he's not a vampire)
                Two escape attempts by Jack and Michiel are foiled.  Meanwhile, the Germans discover the body of the dead German and take hostages in the town to force revealing of the “murderer”.  Michiel’s father is one of the hostages.  Jack wants to turn himself in, but Uncle Ben promises Michiel he can get his father released.  No one questions how a shady resistance operative will convince the Nazis to do this.  Uncle Ben promises more than he can deliver.  However, he will make up for this by aiding in the escape of Jack.  This gets complicated when one of the quartet turns out to be not who they seem to be.

don't you want to know who
Michiel is about to shoot?
                “Winter in Wartime” is a well-made film.  The winter setting is snowily pristine which is contrasting to the underlying malevolence of Nazi occupation.  The cinematography is an interesting blend of styles.  There is some hand-held, some slo-mo, and some POV.  The score is your basic epic orchestral.  It fits well.  Not too pompous or manipulating.  The movie is not violent or graphic and the language is not strong.  It is very perplexing why this movie was rated-R. 

                The plot has weaknesses.  The several escapes are implausible.  The Nazis lack persistence and Jack and Michiel are two lucky dudes.  The romance between Jack and Erica seems thrown in, but it does not sour the movie.  The strength of the plot is in the twisty, thought-provoking ending.  The film finishes strong.  The theme of how war affects young people is explored effectively.  Michiel evolves from wide-eyed innocence to hardened stoicism.  His excitement upon discovery of the downed plane and then the downed airman contrasts with some of the very hard adult decisions he ends up having to make.  Within a week he goes from teenage boy to prematurely aged young man.  This has been seen before, but Lakemeier is up to the task.  The rest of the cast is satisfactory.

                The film attempts to explore the dynamics of an occupied town.  Some of the citizens (like neighbor Shafter) are collaborators.  Some, like Michiel’s father, are just trying to survive by tolerating the Nazis.  Others, like Uncle Ben, are actively working against the occupiers.  This was reality.  The movie clearly depicts the dangers of being in that last group.  Curiously, the movie does not take the time to develop empathy for the Dutch people. The townspeople are not really suffering under Nazi domination.  There are some shocking examples of violence, but they seem thrown in to advance the plot.

so, you thought war was exciting?
                I meant to read the book in conjunction with this review, but my local library could not get it.  Based on Caroline’s excellent review at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, it is apparent there are some differences between the movie and the book.  I gathered from what Caroline writes that the parents in the book are much more involved in the Resistance than they are in the movie.  Michiel’s father is not an ass-kisser like Shafter, but he is not using his home to aid the Underground.  Caroline says:   Every night they open their doors to distant relatives, people on the run, displaced persons, provide shelter and food for one night.”  This does not happen in the movie which is good because the movie widens the gulf between the father and the uncle. The movie also does not really show hardships like hunger affected the people.  The movie does not spend a lot of time on the village dynamics.

                “Winter in Wartime” is an entertaining movie, but does not belong with the greats of the Resistance subgenre.  Focusing on a teenage boy is a nice touch and instructive.  Although the director targeted it at a more adult audience than the novel, the movie still works best if aimed at a teenage audience.  It has an important “what would you do?” vibe to it.

grade =  B-

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

              “The Caine Mutiny” is based on Herman Wouk’s bestseller.  It was directed by Edward Dmitryk (“The Young Lions”) who had been one of the “Hollywood Ten” and had spent time in prison for refusing to answer questions posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  The film was almost not made due to concerns from the Navy.  However, the Navy eventually extended its cooperation after the filmmakers started the movie with the caveat “There has never been a mutiny in the USN”.  This is the only instance in war movie history where the makers insist it is not based on a true story.  The movie was a big hit with audiences and critics.  It received Oscar nominations for Best Picture,  Actor (Bogart lost to Brando in “On the Waterfront”),  Supporting  Actor (Tom Tully), Screenplay, Sound Recording, Editing, and Score (Max Steiner).
                The USS Caine is a destroyer minesweeper.  It is part of the Pacific Fleet during WWII.  Ensign Keith (Robert Francis) arrives on the undisciplined, but efficient rust bucket and is appalled by the lax attitude of Lt. Commander DeVriess (Tom Tully) who comments that the Caine is a “ship designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.”  Keith screws up in his first drill and is reprimanded by DeVriess prompting Keith to respond that the ship is slackly run.  Be careful what you wish for, kid.
Keefer, Queeg, and Maryk
                DeVriess is replaced by Lt. Cmdr. Queeg (Humphrey Bogart).  Queeg is a lifer who is a veteran of the Battle of the Atlantic.  He is a “by the book” type who virtually holds his nose upon inspection of his new command.  In the first meeting with the officers,  he pulls out his marbles – oh, oh!  Keith is the only officer who is excited by the change in command.  Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray) immediately begins plotting and makes a reference to Capt. Bligh.  Executive Officer Maryk (Van Johnson) is concerned, but reserves judgment.

the mutineers
                The plot concentrates on three incidents that lay the groundwork for the climactic act of mutiny.  The first is the cutting of a target towing cable that shows Queeg to be an incompetent martinet.  The second is withdrawal under fire from escorting landing craft that suggests that Queeg is a coward or at least a PTSD casualty.  And then, of course, there is the strawberry incident.  Queeg insists on a full-blown investigation of the theft of some strawberries.  This insane obsession has Keefer pushing for consideration of Article 184 – removal of a captain due to mental illness.

                What muddies the waters is that after the second incident, Queeg vaguely admits maudlinly that he may need some help.  None of the officers respond.  Instead, Maryk begins to keep a journal to chronicle the montage of incidents leading up to the strawberries.  A trip by Keith, Maryk, and Keefer with the journal to see Adm. Halsey is aborted when Keefer gets cold feet.

                The last straw comes during a typhoon that threatens the whole fleet, but in particular the smaller ships like the Caine.  Ever the order-follower, Queeg refuses to change course even though survival depends on it.  When he compounds this stubbornness with a catatonic state, Maryk relieves him of command and saves the ship.  This seems to be a very reasonable act, but some would call it mutiny.  Like the Navy.  Sure enough, Keith and Maryk are brought before a court-martial.  They are represented by a very irascible lawyer named Greenwald (Jose Ferrer).  He is pessimistic and not at all sympathetic.  The trial will hinge upon the testimony of Queeg.  Will he lose his marbles?

                “The Caine Mutiny” is a highly regarded drama mainly because of the stellar acting.  Bogart gives his last great performance and several of his scenes are the work of a master.  The rest of the cast is strong.  I do not comprehend how Tully got an Oscar nod for a minor role and MacMurray was overlooked for playing against type and creating a loathsome character.  Ferrer is good as the lawyer, but the character is unrealistically belligerent toward his clients.  (See below for the trial.)

                The movie is technically sound.  The special effects in the typhoon are amazing.  However, the soundtrack is Max Steiner minor.  The typical old school mood music.  Sappy romance music for the sappy romance scene.  The cinematography is nothing special.

                The novel and movie grew from a seed of truth.  Wouk served on similar ships in the Pacific in WWII.  The inspiration for the story came from the USS Hull which sank in Typhoon Cobra.  The typhoon was a disaster that caused considerable damage and loss of life for Adm. Halsey’s fleet off the Philippines in December, 1944.  The Hull’s captain, Joseph Marks, was obviously the model for Queeg.  Marks was a veteran of the Atlantic convoys.  He was an incompetent tyrant who forbid conversations between officers and enlisted.  He deprived the crew of shore leave for minor infractions.  During the storm, the officers discussed removing him, but decided against it.  However, a court of inquiry after the ship sank found him too inexperienced for the safety of the ship.

                I have not read the book, but the movie follows it pretty closely.  The characters are essentially the same.  However, the book gives much more coverage to Keith before and after the incidents portrayed in the movie.  The novel is essentially a redemption tale of Keith who goes from an incompetent, clueless, callow, rich jerk to a mature, competent ship captain who learns from his mistakes.  The Keith character in the movie is not well developed.  The movie adds a schmaltzy romantic interlude between Keith and his girlfriend.  Considering the studio insisted the movie not go over two hours, these were wasted minutes.  This is a 1950s war movie so you have to shoe-horn in a romance.  Yucch!

                The movie is a must-see, but I found it to be overrated mainly because I could not buy the plot twist that the mutiny was unjustified.  The film makes too strong of a case that Maryk had to save the ship.  Also, the case against the mental stability of Queeg piles up to Olympian heights.  Sure, the officers should have been more sympathetic and taken up his vague plea for help, but the movie makes it apparent that Queeg was unlikely to change.  The movie (and novel) does a good job taking down the slippery Keefer, but it does not have to take down Maryk with him and there is little reason to rehabilitate Queeg in the post script.

           Will it crack my 100 Best War Movies?  Unlikely since I do not consider it to be clearly a war movie.

grade  =  B 
             Greenwald is pessimistic and not at all sympathetic.  Apparently every potential Navy defense attorney is extremely anti-mutiny no matter the circumstances.  However, although you might not want a pit bull in your cage, it is nice to sick him on your opponents.  In the trial, Keefer weasels out of complicity.  (I doubt he recounted this to "His Three Sons".)  Queeg is called to the witness stand and at first lies his ass off and tries to play it cool (which is unnatural for him).  Under sharp questioning by Greenwald he pulls out his marbles and becomes unglued in an iconic scene.  Acquittal accomplished.  The movie appends a scene that causes the audience to question the seemingly logical actions of the officers and the court.  Greenwald confronts the mutineers and makes it clear they were wrong and he loathes them.  Apparently he would have preferred they and their ship were resting at the bottom of the ocean.  I bet he felt bad when he saw the movie.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


          As I approach my 300th post, I thought it was a good time to update my readers on the status of my blog.  Originally I started the blog to simply watch each of the 100 Greatest War Movies as chosen by Military History magazine.  My intention was to watch one of the movies per week from 100-1.  That proved to be too ambitious a time frame, but amazingly I have been able to see all of the movies as I have worked down to #15.

          Early on I decided to branch out to war movies not on the 100 Greatest list.  This was partly because I realized there are many very good war movies that were inexplicably left off the list.  For this reason, I will eventually be posting my own 100 Best War Movies.  That will not be for a while yet.  The other reason I started posting on all kinds of war movies was because I love to watch war movies and write about them.  It also adds variety and quantity to the blog.

           Here are the categories I developed:
1.  Should I read it? -  foreign war movies with subtitles
2.  Forgotten Gem? - obscure war movies
3.  Antique or Classic? -  old war movies
4.  Dueling Movies -  two similar movies compared
5.  Cracker? - movies that could potentially be in my 100 Best
6.  War Chick Flick - war romances
7.  Now Showing - reviews of war movies I see in a theater
8.  Live - stream of consciousness reviews
9.  Book / Movie - comparing the movie to the book it was based on
10.  History or Hollywood -  comparing the movie to accuracy

           I have taken a little grief for the format of my reviews, but I decided my reviews would be the equivalent of snarky Wikipedia articles.  In other words, I would summarize the plots as part of the review.  I realize that there are spoilers.  In the 100 Greatest reviews, readers can skip the summary and closing segments.  As far as the other categories, just be careful if you don't want to know a lot about what happens in the movie.  As far as the length of the posts, I like to write - sorry.  I do a lot of research on every movie I watch and try to pass on interesting facts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

FORGOTTEN GEM? D-Day - The 6th of June (1956)

              “D-Day – Sixth of June” is a war romance set in the events leading up to the invasion of Normandy.  It is an American film released in 1956.  It is based on an award-winning novel by a Canadian correspondent named Lionel Shapiro.  The book is simply titled “The Sixth of June”.  It is one of the few American movies that focus on the British point of view and features Canadian soldiers.  The film is from the tried and true love triangle subgenre.  It opens with a warning that “For many [the sixth of June] was the last day of their lives.”  If that whets your appetite for bloodshed, prepare to be disappointed.

                Lt. Col.  Wynters (Richard Todd) is a Brit in command of an elite unit called Special Force Six ( a great name for a B movie, by the way).  They are on their way to Normandy.  Good, here comes the combat.  Wait, what’s this?  Damn, a flashback!  Wynters reminisces about his romance with Valerie Russell (Dana Wynter) who is the daughter of a stuffy (are there any other types?) British brigadier.  It’s a schmaltzy flashback replete with treacly music.  When you see the moon, think of me looking at it, too.  Argggh.   The third member of the triangle is Lt. Col. Parker (Robert Taylor).  He is on the same mission and also has a flashback.  Guess who their flashbacks have in common? The Parker-Val relationship starts off chaste.  They meet while Wynters is off to war.  They are just going to be friends – like the countries they represent.  However, just like England before Pearl Harbor, she could be seduced by the right country.  He tells her he is married.  There is a lot of talking and some ominous dancing that leads to… you guessed it – a weekend at a quaint country inn.  Off screen hootchie-cootchie alert!

                A ten month separation while Parker is posted to Algiers does not end the romance.  They reunite at the… you guessed it – railway station.  Wait, isn’t this supposed to get complicated?  Queue the return of the wounded cuckolded fiancé Wynters.  He finds out about the cheating, but he accepts it with a stiff upper lip (he’s British).   Parker joins Special Force Six whose mission is obviously based on the actual U.S. Rangers mission to take out the guns of Pointe Du Hoc.  In the movie, the site is called Angel Point (very French!).  It is going to be a “sticky wicket”.  Val has chosen Wynters (loyalty?) and breaks it off with Parker in a syrupy scene.  It looks like someone is going to die and it ain’t gonna be the bird.  Wait, don’t the two dudes have to buddy up in an awkward way?  Sure enough, Wynters is brought in to take command of Special Force Six after the previous commander drunkenly blabbed about the mission.  How convenient.

                If you been waiting for some action (not the kind of action Parker was getting), those fifteen minutes are now here as the flashbacks end and the fighting begins.  They land (in nice weather) to lots of noise and lots of mortars.  Parker gets wounded taking out the mortars and Wynters is hit in the arm.  Hold on – they both survive?  What the hey?  Wynters says good bye to Parker and then steps on a land mine.  LOL – cliché achieved!

                I won’t give away the ending, but I have to say it is the only thing in the movie that is not predictable.  The director must have patted himself on the back and proclaimed himself to be an auteur.  This works if the audience has a very limited memory of the rest of the film.

                This movie actually has its fans.  Gary Freitas of Belle and Blade gave it a 3.0, but you can tell he realizes he’s on shaky ground and probably did not sleep well that night.  The movie is boring!  There is a lot of talking and obviously not much action.  The combat is above average, but pedestrian.  The plot is ridiculous and I can’t imagine the book could be very good.  The special effects are bad.  The budget was low and it shows.  The landing was filmed in California using two Higgins boats and 80 soldiers.  They did not wait for the weather to get D-Dayish.  On the plus sign, Dana Wynter is hot and she gets naked (off camera).  This was her favorite movie, believe it or not.  Suck it, “Sink the Bismarck” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.  I never thought I’d say this, but “Yanks” has a similar plot and is a better movie, relatively speaking.

                In an interesting (I hope) post script, let me add that there was a dollop of accuracy in the plot.  The commander of the U.S. Rangers tasked to take out the guns at Pointe du Hoc was relieved of command before the mission.  But not for drunken blabbing.  He had heard about French Resistance reports that the guns had been removed and thus vocalized his opinion that it made the mission unnecessary, especially since it was borderline suicidal.  You can imagine how the authorities responded to his suggestion.  Hint: it was similar to the British response when intelligence indicated that there was a Panzer division in the vicinity of the Bridge Too Far.  “The best laid plans… must be allowed to take place.”

Grade =  D
the trailer

Friday, June 21, 2013


           The Longest Day” is a movie about D-Day that was based on the nonfiction book by Cornelius Ryan.  I thought it would be interested to see what Hollywood added and altered from the book.  Here are some statements about events in the movie, try to determine if they also appear in the book.

1.  Rommel said, "Believe me, Gentleman, the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive. For the Allies as well as the Germans, it will be "the longest day… the longest day"! 

2.  Dutch Shultz wins a lot of money in a crap game, but a rosary from his mother causes him to purposely lose it all before potentially dying.

3. “Pips” Priller complains about his squadron being withdrawn leaving only he and his wingman.

4.  Janine Boitard hides downed airmen in her basement.

5.  Capt. Ernst During puts his boots on the wrong feet.

6. A paratrooper lands in a well.

7. Steele’s parachute gets caught on a church steeple and he was hit in the foot.

8. A British chaplain goes bobbing for his mass kit.

9. A group of soldiers including Schultz pass by a group of Germans without either side noticing the other was the enemy.

10. Col. Vandervoort broke his ankle on landing.

11. Pluskat sights the armada and relays that it is coming “right for me!”

12. Private Flanagan (Sean Connery) stumbles and falls in the water and says “they’re trying to drown me before I even get on the beach!”

13. There was a bagpipe player with Lovat.

14. The beachmaster had a bulldog and started a stalled vehicle by hitting it with his cudgel.

15. The reporter yelled “damned traitors” when the carrier pigeons went the wrong way.

16. Janine Boitard helped blow up a train and was almost drowned by a German soldier.

17. Gen. Cota says “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, those who are dead and those who are going to die.”

18. When two Germans try to surrender, a Ranger shoots them and then says “I wonder what ‘bitter, bitter’ means.”

19. Flight Commander Campbell (Richard Burton) was shot down, crippled, and shot During (who still had his boots on wrong). 

20. Priller and his wingman made the only appearance by the Luftwaffe that day.

21. A British paratrooper landed at a German headquarters and told a German general “Awfully sorry, old man, but we simply landed here by accident.”

22. A group of nuns walk through the chaos of Ouistreham to care for the wounded French.

23. Fuller uses Bangalore torpedoes to blow a lane through the barbed wire and then blows a hole on the sea wall to open up Omaha Beach.

1. Rommel said, "Believe me, Gentleman, the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive. For the Allies as well as the Germans, it will be "The Longest Day… The Longest Day"!  History

2.  Dutch Shultz wins a lot of money in a crap game, but a rosary from his mother causes him to purposely lose it all before potentially dying.  History, except he had received the rosary earlier and remembering it caused him to reenter the game.

3.  “Pips” Priller complains about his squadron being withdrawn leaving only he and his wingman.  History, the squadron was needed for the defense of Germany.

4.  Janine Boitard hides downed airmen in her basement.  History.

5.  Capt. Ernst During puts his boots on the wrong feet.  History.

6. A paratrooper lands in a well.  History, he climbed out by using the parachute shroud lines.

7. Steele’s parachute gets caught on a church steeple and he was hit in the foot.  History, but he was hit in the foot on the way down.

8. A British chaplain goes bobbing for his mass kit.  History, but it actually happened to an American chaplain.

9. A group of soldiers including Schultz pass by a group of Germans without either side noticing the other was the enemy.  History, but both sides knew who the other was, they just did not do anything about it.

10. Col. Vandervoort broke his ankle on landing.  History, but it was not a compound fracture.

11. Pluskat sights the armada and relays that it is coming “right for me!”  History.

12. Private Flanagan (Sean Connery) stumbles and falls in the water and says “they’re trying to drown me before I even get on the beach!”  History, except his name was McQuaid

13. There was a bagpipe player with Lovat.  History.

14. The beachmaster had a bulldog and started a stalled vehicle by hitting it with his cudgel.  Histywood.  Capt. Maud was actually on Juno Beach and his dog was an Alsatian.  He did not cane start a vehicle.  he did have a cudgel.

15. The reporter yelled “damned traitors” when the carrier pigeons went the wrong way.  History.

16. Janine Boitard helped blow up a train and was almost drowned by a German soldier.  Hollywood.  The actress (Irena Demick) was the producer’s mistress so her role was expanded.

17. Gen. Cota says “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, those who are dead and those who are going to die.”  Histywood.  Actually said by Col. George Taylor of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Division.

18. When two Germans try to surrender, a Ranger shoots them and then says “I wonder what ‘bitter, bitter’ means.”  Histywood – actually happened on the bluff of Omaha Beach.

19. Flight Commander Campbell (Richard Burton) was shot down, crippled, and shot During (who still had his boots on wrong).  Hollywood, the Campbell character was created for Burton.

20. Priller and his wingman made the only appearance by the Luftwaffe that day.  History, although they might not have been the only appearance of the Luftwaffe and they were still drunk from the night before. 

21. A British paratrooper landed at a German headquarters and told a German general “Awfully sorry, old man, but we simply landed here by accident.”  History.

22. A group of nuns walk through the chaos of Ouistreham to care for the wounded French.  Hollywood.

23. Fuller uses Bangalore torpedoes to blow a lane through the barbed wire and then blows a hole on the sea wall to open up Omaha Beach.  Hollywood.  There is no Fuller in the book and the egress from the beach was not that simple.  It involved small groups of men fighting their way to the top and taking out the German positions.

RATING  =  .76

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#15 - The Longest Day (1962)

BACK-STORY:  “The Longest Day” is the granddaddy of the war movie epics.  Its progeny include “A Bridge Too Far”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, “Battle of Britain”, etc.  It was a labor of love for famed producer Darryl Zanuck who purchased the rights to Cornelius Ryan’s bestseller.  Zanuck got multinational cooperation and brought in a international cast.  At $10 million, it was the most expensive black and white film until “Schindler's List”.  Zanuck used several directors and was very hands-on.  He insisted on shooting at the actual locations whenever possible which included Ste. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, and Pegasus Bridge.  The Omaha landings were filmed on Corsica.  The movie was a box office success and was the highest grossing black and white movie until “Schindler’s List”.  It won Oscars for Cinematography and Special Effects.  It was nominated for Picture (“Lawrence of Arabia” won), Art Direction, and Editing. 

OPENING:  A comely French Resistance operative named Janine (Zanuck’s new mistress Irina Demick) uses her low cut blouse to distract German soldiers while her fiance smuggles contraband past them.  Several other characters are introduced in mini-scenes.  The sequence ends with Rommel intoning that the first 24 hours of the invasion will be “the longest day”.
"Look at these, not at that hay"

SUMMARY: TLD is a difficult movie to summarize because it is basically like the book – a series of vignettes bouncing between the Allies and the Germans.  The first third of the film introduces the multitude of characters and gives the audience perspective on the Allied plans and the German cluelessness.  Dialogue is used to inform the audience about the military situation.  The role of the weather (its raining cats and chiens) is highlighted.  Little details like the clickers used by American paratroopers for identification and the Rupert decoy dummies are introduced.  It becomes apparent through the introduction of characters that the movie will be balanced between the brass and the boots.

                Once the battle begins the film can be divided between its set pieces.  Maj. Howard (Richard Todd who actually participated in the assault on the bridge) leads a glider attack on the Orne River Bridge (Pegasus Bridge).  There is some good POV and the scene is done with no soundtrack.  The first bullets fly at the 53 minute mark of the movie.  It’s a “guns and grenades” scene with lots of intensity, but no gore (typical of the whole film).  The deaths are not silly, thankfully.
"This place seems familiar"  (Richard Todd)

                Next come a variety of paratrooper landings again sans music but avec frogs and crickets.  The confusion authentically depicts the “fog of war”.  This leads to the famous Ste. Mere Eglise landing.  Here the star is Pvt. Steele (Red Buttons) whose parachute gets caught on the church steeple.  His comrades aren’t so lucky as they land in the middle of the German garrison.
"Nobody touch my parachute on the steeple - it's iconic"

                The next big set piece is the Omaha landing.  Werner Pluskat (Hans Blech) sees the armada coming right at him from a bunker in an iconic scene.  The view is not tainted by CGI.  The naval bombardment is realistic.  There is a nice tracking shot following the first wave to the sea wall.  (Director: “every fourth man needs to die”.)  No bullet wounds or blood.  It’s the opposite of SPR, but if Zanuck had used that style, the 1962 audiences would have needed paramedics.  Its pretty large scale with help from the U.S. fleet available off Corsica.  The other beaches are appropriately given less coverage, but each has its memorable moments.  Like when the Canadian correspondent accuses wayward carrier pigeons of being “damned traitors” or when German uber-ace Josef Priller (Heinz Reincke) and his wing man strafe Gold and Juno beaches.

"Every fourth man - die" - the director
                The scaling of the cliff at Pointe du Hoc by the Rangers is grandly reenacted.  Believe it or not, the standout is one of the teen idols recruited by Zanuck.  Paul Anka runs around like an urchin with a Thompson.  This scene also includes the killing of Germans attempting to surrender. “ I wonder what ‘bitter, bitter’ means.”  The movie emphasized the myth that the assault was useless because the targeted guns were not emplaced.
Paul Anka - action hero

                Shocking for an American movie, the movie’s biggest set piece is the French assualt on the Ouistreham casino.  This features a magnificent helicopter tracking shot of the French commandoes charging through the streets.  Most memorable here is the gaggle of nuns which walks through the maelstrom to help with the wounded.  Eventually a tank shows up to wreck the German bunker.
"I don't care if there isn't supposed to be a
casino there, blow it up."

                The movie returns to Omaha so Gen. Cota (Robert Mitchum) can chew his cigar and kick some ass.  “Only two kinds of people are going to stay on this beach – those that are dead and those who are going to die.”  He encourages Sgt. Fuller (Jeffrey Hunter) to use bangalore torpedoes and TNT to blow a hole in the sea wall.  Not exactly the way it happened, but neither was SPR.
"Why do I have to be the last star to die?"
-  Jeffrey Hunter

CLOSING:  Pvt. Schultz (Richard Beymer) has his arc that began with a crap game end with an intersection with downed RAF pilot Flying Officer Campbell (Richard Burton).  This scene also closes the arc of the Nazi wrong-booted dude.  Schultz represents the typical paratrooper when he comments that he has not fired his gun all day.  He sums up the fog of war when he says, “I wonder who won.”  Sadly, this question could be asked by many of my students before we cover D-Day.  If they were to watch this movie, they would find out.     
"Anytime I see a Jerry with his boots on the wrong feet, I shoot him."
-  Campbell (with Breymer)


Acting -  A
Action -  8/10
Accuracy -  A
Realism -  A-
Plot -  A+
Cliches -  A

Overall – A+

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT?  Yes.  Although there is only one significant female character, there is one significant female character.  That’s better than most war movies.  Just don’t tell your girl friend how she got the role.  The violence is intense, but lacks gore or bloodshed.  Plus you can go back in a time machine and see what hunks looked like in 1962.  If she loves Justin Bieber – there are three of them in this movie! (Paul Anka, Tommy Sands, and Fabian)

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  People who have not read Ryan’s book have faulted some of the obvious Hollywoodisms in the movie.  And truthfully, there are vignettes and character developments that seem invented.  However, as you will see if you go to my post on "History or Hollywood: The Longest Day", most of the dubious elements are actually true to Ryan’s well-researched book.  Some of the supposedly hokey dialogue in the movie is straight from the book (which was based on extensive interviews by Ryan).

                As a tutorial, the movie does a great job telling the story of D-Day.  Zanuck brought in ten technical advisers, but entertainment and logistics trumped them in some cases.  For instance, Rupert was a lot less photogenic in real pseudo-life.  There was no casino at Ouistreham at the time of the assault.  Most problematic is the simplistic success at Omaha.

                The movie is often labeled a docudrama.  This is a misnomer, but buttresses its claims to accuracy.  It is easy to watch the way the movie covers most of the cogent facts about Operation Overlord and the balanced approach to both sides and think you are watching a documentary.

CRITIQUE:  This is a big movie.  Zanuck went all in and it shows.  He literally commanded an army of actors and crew.  The equipment is sometimes anachronistic (the ME-109s are actually ME-108s, for instance), but it was not from lack of trying.  He also spent a lot of effort trying to get things right.  For example, he originally tried to reenact the drop on Ste. Mere Eglise using actual paratoopers dropping from planes.  Uncooperative winds put an end to that noble attempt.  He insisted all the dialogue be in the correct language.  Using subtitles was a bold move and sends a strong message that entertainment was not the only goal.

                Some critics find fault with the cast and the acting.  There is something of a stunt feel to it, but the variety of characters was based on the book and why not have the best professionals play the roles?  Granted, it is hard not to see John Wayne as playing Col. John Wayne (actually he is Lt. Col. Vandervoort).  Can anyone seriously argue that Zanuck, who is making the epic WWII movie, should pass up the chance to have the biggest star on Earth and the man most associated with war movies in his film?  By the way, when Wayne wanted in, Zanuck agreed to pay him $250,000 instead of the standard $25,000 the other stars made.  (Wayne forced the fee due to a grudge against a crack Zanuck made about the bombing of “The Alamo”.)
"What do you mean no one can walk on a compound fracture?
Did you notice I'm John Wayne, you dumbass Pilgrim?!"

                The movie is uniformly well-acted.  There is little scene-chewing by the stars in spite of their recognition that their screen time would be very limited.  It is interesting to see how the big stars use little tricks of the trade to maximize their time on camera.  The best example is the inflection Rod Steiger puts into his big line:  You remember it. Remember every bit of it, 'cause we are on the eve of a day that people are going to talk about long after we are dead and gone.”   The amazing aspect of the casting is the most memorable performances are by the B-Listers.  Richard Beymer ("Dutch" Schultz) and Hans Blech (Werner Pluskat) come to mind.  More importantly, some of the performances made the actual people famous.  What American would have cared about the fascinating “Pips” Priller (look him up on Wikipedia) if not for Heinz Reincke’s vibrant portrayal?

                The cinematography is crisp black and white.  Most of it is standard, but then you have the Ste. Mere Eglise drop and the casino tracking shot to marvel at.  The movie has a surprising lack of score.  This is so refreshing compared to other Old School WWII movies!  No pomposity or mood manipulating.

                The plot handles a complex topic in a way that you do not need much knowledge of D-Day to follow it.  Unlike many similar movies, TLD periodically informs us when and where the action is taking place.  The jumping between the Allies and the Germans works well.  The Germans are not demonized and in fact there is not a single “heil Hitler” in the film.  For a serious pseudo documentary, there are brief, but effective interjections of humor.

CONCLUSION:  Considering it was the first of its type (the big budget, all-star, battle epic) and has had many challengers over the years, it is amazing that you can argue it is still the best of them all.  I doubt it could be much better than it is given the state of war movie making in 1962.  I think it is also true to say that even with modern technology, a remake could not improve on it.  Zanuck did not try to reinvent the genre, but he did create a subgenre and using orthodox methods fashioned a masterpiece.  Although it is sometimes unfairly compared to “Saving Private Ryan”, it is actually the perfect companion to it.  By watching both, one gets a well-rounded view of D-Day.  As far as its placement at #16, I’m fairly sure it is superior to some of the higher ranked movies and could have a shot at the top ten on my eventual 100 Best War Movies list.

Once again I would like to thank the wonderful Internet Movie Firearms Database for the fantastic pictures.