June 6, 1944 was the most important single battle during the history of mankind. When the Allies stormed the beaches at Normandy, France everything hinged upon their victory. There were 3 million men involved in this one battle and directors Ken Annakin (Swiss Family Robinson), Andrew Marton (King Solomon's Mines) and Bernhard Wicki (The Visit) were entrusted by producer Darryl F. Zannuck to recreate the entire battle onscreen. The story of that day is told from both sides of the battle, which makes for very interesting watching. It looks at the battle from the 5 different attack points hour by hour and covers all the strategies, foul ups and random events that occurred.
To this day it is still considered one of the best war films ever made and it did win 2 Oscars Awards for its technical brilliance. It was filmed in black and white even though most pictures of this time were in colour. The film's footage has been complimented by some actual footage from World War II. Technically and logistically this was a huge undertaking in that they used a huge cast (hundreds of extras and 42 big stars), technically it was advanced and because it was such a 'large' film they used several directors filming in different countries. You can tell with ever second of film that this must have been a labour of love for producer Darryl F. Zannuck. For him to have convinced the likes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Rod Steiger, and Red Buttons to play supporting roles (there really are no lead roles in the film due to the scope of it) is amazing. The story being told is so large that no one actor gets a chance to shine. In a smart casting move, younger stars such as, Paul Anka, Fabian and Sal Mineo were used to portray infantrymen. There are also cameos appearances by Sean Connery, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowell, and George Segal. The cast was made up of a mix of ages just as the armies would have been.
A strong point of the film is that it tells both sides of the story. We get insight into what the Germans were thinking, doing and feeling on this momentous day. En more important to me was the fact that the Germans spoke in German (they used subtitles). It was not the typical World War II film in which the Germans all speak in English with British accents. Soldiers and civilians from the different countries (Germany, France, England, United States, etc.) speak in their own languages. This definitely lends to the authentic feeling of the film.
Though there is not the blood and guts of a film like "Saving Private Ryan" in The Longest Day, there are still some scenes which are hard to watch. The two scenes that stand out for me are when American paratroopers land on a church in France and are slaughtered by the Germans and the battle at the cliffs at Omaha. Blood and guts are not necessary to make these scenes horrifying and poignant. It is certainly worth the nearly 3 hours of your time that it takes to watch this film.