Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne

LET’S DISCUSS: The Longest Day, compared to other war movies – D-Day special

Posted by Max Lalanne on June 6, 2012

I recently watched The Longest Day on Netflix streaming, and wanted to write about it and hear your thoughts today, seeing as it’s June 6, the same day in history that the Allied forces undertook D-Day and freed France, etc., in 1944. The Longest Day  is one of the most strikingly different war movies that I’ve seen, there’s no denying that. There’s no inkling of anti-war thoughts, or not even any single moment questioning the bloody madness of war itself. No ironic or satirical undercurrent running through the veins, not a single one in the whole 3 hours the film lasts. This 1962 epic taking place during the Normandy landings of 1944 is pure, naive if almost contrived, “escapism,” if you can call the war-torn, corpse-strewn beaches an ideal place to “escape” to while watching a movie. You’ll find no disillusioned characters, relatable soldiers far from home,  who want nothing but to stop senselessly killing and routinely fighting on a foreign  land. There’s no internal, provoking battle within the mind of someone that counts more that the one directly ahead of them.

What must the Allies do? They must invade France and take it back from the entrenched Nazis, and that’s what they need to do and that’s what they do in The Longest Day. There’s not even any doubt for the audience whether they will succeed, and you almost feel, no doubt for the characters either. It’s a black-and-white, colossal, lavishly-produced, star-filled action movie, made for only entertaining in the most patriotic, straight-forward way. But it’s not even that. It’s not particularly contrived or even pro-war, it simply doesn’t have an opinion on war, just re-creating it for audiences without any additional commentary but a whole lot of action-packed entertainment.  What other war movies after that period still do that, and manage to pull it off? Nowadays, Hollywood just could not do a film like that, or if they would they would go all Act of Valor on it. I mean, look at Saving Private Ryan. I hate to compare Steven Spielberg’s 1997 hit with The Longest Day, but my point is even in a well-meaning, un-controversial production like Saving Private Ryan, it’s natural to show the utter madness of war and how it affects our protagonists, their lives and how we view them. It doesn’t go and take a stand like Platoon, or Apocalypse Now, or Full Metal Jacket, or even All Quiet on the Western Front  do, because it’s not that kind of movie, obviously. But it does to a degree that seems natural and very Spielberg-esque, and it worked wonders because it was well-done and not-too-much, not-too-little.

And yet The Longest Day doesn’t have anything of that, and yet it’s not a stupid, brainless movie. It’s an old-fashioned kind of movie that stars John Wayne and yet still holds up in the 21st century. It’s a movie that doesn’t give us anything substantial to think about, only thrills and joy and the occasional sadness, basic human emotions. War is hell, but apart from merely showing it onscreen there is no mention of it. So what is it that makes The Longest Day still relevant, that makes it still regarded as highly other than for its amazing production values? Why has this particular film withstood the test of time and emerged as a film unlike any other within its genre, yet still regarded as one of the greatest war movies ever made? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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