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  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • 2 Documentaries

The Longest Day: Special Edition

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . B&W . 171 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck put $10 million of his own money into this movie. He thought it that important.

Of course, $10 million was probably chicken-feed to Zanuck. In a documentary accompanying this movie, he's shown in his office. And on the walls behind him are a major Picasso Harlequin painting, and a Monet as well. That's Monet. Pronounced M.O.N.E.Y.

Zanuck was right to take the gamble, which is why he was a movie-mogul and I'm not. This was a terrific subject - the first 24 hours of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 2004. This was the biggest invasion of any country at any time in history. It marked the beginning of the end of the Evil Empire.

The movie has a cast of thousands, including prodigal use of stars in cameo roles -- so many of the Hollywood, British, German and French acting greats that no order of precedence could be established -- they are all just listed in strict alphabetical order at the end. All, that is, except John Wayne, who had to show himself to be bigger than anyone else by having a special feature mention right at the end of the list. It figures.....

But forget the presence of the obnoxious John Wayne. There's some real talent here, including Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton and Kenneth More. And in one of the nicest touches, we meet the British actor Richard Todd, best remembered today as playing Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC in The Dam Busters, playing the role of a Paratrooper dropped way behind enemy lines ahead of the invasion. Very nice casting indeed, since that's exactly what Richard Todd did in real life.

The acting line-up is tremendous, and it would be a brave man who would pick out one member of the cast as its most impressive in this movie. So I'll be brave, and point to Robert Mitchum, in one of the greatest performances in a still sadly underrated career, as Brigadier-General Norman Cota, who led the assault on the bloodiest of all the Normandy beaches, in Operation Omaha.

Zanuck decided to shoot The Longest Day in widescreen black-and-white. I guess that decision was taken in the main to allow for seamless interpolation of actual newsreel footage from that time. Whatever the reason, it works. The black-and-white footage gives a remarkable feeling of gritty veracity. This is invasion-time all over again. Everything seems so incredibly real .... except of course for John Wayne.

The effects of artillery barrages, of thousands of people storming beaches, of general destruction and carnage, are amazingly realistic in this pre-digital movie, and a lot more convincing than more modern sagas starring Tom Hanks etc. Yes, I'm bagging Saving Private Ryan.

It's not quite up there with The Dam Busters but that's an unfair comparison. After all, we're talking there about the single greatest movie ever made about the Second World War. This does run it pretty close.

The only let-down is footage early on, around the four and five minute mark, when we see Field Marshall Rommell surveying the French coastline and deciding everything is quiet enough for him to take a holiday in Germany. What looks like hugely excessive edge-enhancement is in fact very bad blue-screen. The effect quickly passes.

Watch here too for a very odd special-effects blunder. Rommell totally disappears from screen for a few moments, while the background, and his voice remains. Keep watching, and he pops back again. It's become a classic flaw, rather like the famous surprise appearance of a motor-car in the background of Sherwood Forest, during Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood.

But forget the odd flaw. This is a wonderfully made and perfectly paced movie, which will repay repeated viewing.

The Longest Day is remarkable in how it manages to tell the tale of the first day of the invasion of France, through a dozen separate stories, involving individual soldiers and officers on both sides of the battle. The interweaving is immaculately done.

It's very impressive story-telling, both in the close-up personal stories, and in the immaculately choreographed set-pieces involving the cast of thousands. It is as relevant now as when Zanuck took the huge financial gamble to have it made. See it, and remember how freedom in Europe was won.

Oh yes.... forgot to mention. It's also tremendously exciting. Not quite as exciting perhaps as Where Eagles Dare, but this is the real thing!

  Video
Contract

This is a reasonable widescreen anamorphic transfer of this classic movie, a bit soft but with reasonable clarity and consistent definition.

Some edge enhancement is noticeable from time to time, but never enough for distraction -- and I think what might seem the worst example, near the opening of the movie, is in fact due to the blue-screen process.

The image is quite dark at times, but always with reasonable clarity -- and the overall darkness might have been intentional, to allow for a more realistic meeting-point between new and archival footage.

  Audio
Contract

The original four-track stereo has been remixed into 5.1 Dolby.

Strangely though, the sound seems mono for the most part, with only the occasional passing mortar-shell or rifle-shots bringing a sudden stereo presence to the soundscape. And there is very little work going on in the deepest bass depths -- the cellar is undisturbed.

But the sound is rich and strong, and dialogue is especially clear, during the worst of the tumult.

  Extras
Contract

The movie takes up the complete first disc of this two-disc presentation, with two Special Features on the second disc.

The first is Hollywood Backstory - The Longest Day, about the circumstances behind the making of the movie. It's in fact more about Zanuck than the film, tracing his connection to the studio and the financial straits 20th Century Fox was in at this time, which led to Zanuck having to bankroll the movie himself. It runs for 24 minutes, and is a fullscreen presentation in reasonable quality for an unrestored documentary of this type.

Second is a project by Zanuck himself, D-Day Revisited, in which Zanuck takes us to Normany in 1968,to see the same beaches on which the landings took place, 24 years after the events the movie tells. It's an interesting travelogue, taking 50 minutes. Picture quality is mediocre.

  Overall  
Contract

This is a classic tale of the Second World War, which also qualifies as great cinema regardless of what genre it is. Buy or borrow, but see it you must.


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      And I quote...
    "Brilliant story-telling of the invasion of Normandy -- the long day which ended the rule of the Evil Empire and brought freedom to Europe."
    - Anthony Clarke
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DVD 655A
    • TV:
          Loewe Profil Plus 3272 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Denon AVR-3801
    • Speakers:
          Neat Acoustics PETITE
    • Centre Speaker:
          Neat Acoustics PETITE
    • Surrounds:
          Celestian (50W)
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
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