Informative comparison of "The Longest Day" and the actual events of D-Day
"The Longest Day: A Salute to Courage" (2001) is a 43-minute TV documentary (shown on The History Channel) which chronicles Darryl F. Zanuck's return from self-imposed exile from 20th Century Fox to devote two years of his life and some of his own considerable resources to the making of THE LONGEST DAY (1962), an epic recreation of the historic D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Key interview subjects include: Victoria Ryan, daughter of war correspondent Cornelius Ryan, whose book formed the basis of the movie; Elmo Williams, the film's associate producer; Darrilyn Zanuck, Zanuck's daughter; Richard Zanuck, Zanuck's son and a Fox executive in his own right; Douglas E. McCabe, curator of the Cornelius Ryan Collection; Rudy Behlmer, author of "Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck"; and Ken Annakin, director of the British sequences of the film. Two actors from the film are interviewed: Richard Todd, a war veteran who was a paratrooper on D-Day, and Red Buttons.
Most importantly, we hear from six actual veterans of D-Day: Robert M. Murphy, Paul R. Sands, Leonard "Bud" Lommel, William Friedman, and Noel A. Dube, all from the American armed forces, and one German war veteran, Rudy Meyer. They provide testimony as to what actually happened on D-Day and what exactly THE LONGEST DAY got wrong. For instance, in the actual parachute landings, the paratroopers were physically unable to wield a weapon as they landed, whereas the movie shows paratroopers firing machine guns as they came down. On Omaha Beach, the movie shows the engineers blowing a hole in the sea wall and the troops triumphantly pouring through, whereas in real life the path through the breach was slow and painstaking and took hours to get through. As William Friedman points out, "Nobody went charging up the hill."
Robert Murphy, one of the Rangers who climbed Pointe du Hoc, acknowledges the accuracy of the depiction of the storming of the cliff, but was upset at the film's implication that the Rangers' mission was in vain, since the guns they set out to disable at the top of the cliff were gone from the bunkers when they got there. In real life, the Rangers kept searching and soon found the guns they were looking for and disabled them, saving countless lives. Murphy also took issue with the scene where German soldiers come out of a bunker with hands raised, saying "Bitte! Bitte!" ("Please, please!") only to be shot dead by an uncomprehending soldier. He says he never heard of anything like this happening.
While I like the movie a great deal and have been a fan of it since I saw it in a neighborhood theater as a ten-year-old some 50 years ago, it's important to research the actual events and learn the truth of what happened from the men who were there. This documentary adds a lot to my own reading on the subject.
The veterans' interviews are intercut with archival photos and scenes from the film. Burt Reynolds provides lively and enthusiastic narration. This film was included as an extra on a special DVD edition of THE LONGEST DAY. I am posting this review on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
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