Five years into the Second World War and the Nazis were sure that the Allies were planning an invasion force from their bases in the United Kingdom to the coast of France as the events of the conflict drew to a head. Now it was the start of June, and the weather was so unseasonally inclement that the Germans did not believe that the British and American forces would try anything before it cleared up, but that was where they made their fatal error. There was indeed an invasion scheduled for the 6th, as their was due to be a brief break in the storm that day, and so the war machines were geared up...
The Longest Day was a pet project for 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, and with the contemporary Cleopatra turning into the most expensive film of all time, and not intentionally either, for some reason he felt the ideal antidote to his money woes was an equally huge production. As it turned out, he lost a lot on Cleo, but made a lot on this, so perhaps things worked out in their way, with this being one of those superproductions of the sixties to feature a star in practically every role, not that you'd recognise them all under that dust and grime. This had the additional benefit of being more entertaining that Cleopatra, although it was no less lengthy if you were planning to watch it.
That gambit on keeping the movie's profile up by having at least a handful of actors who you would be able to name no matter where you were in the world paid off, and if the industry's actresses were shortchanged (as were the industry's black actors for some reason), then all those manly men - and Roddy McDowall - supplied the necessary wattage. Heading them was John Wayne as a heroic lt. colonel, and being the biggest star at the time he got to have his name in the end titles prefixed with the all-important "and" whereas everyone else was in alphabetical order. He still managed to make a favourable impression, one of the few who did, as the story tended to sag somewhat.
This was mainly due to all those famous faces providing something of a distraction as you tried to put a name to many of them, and with the greater number barely getting a couple of scenes each the ploy tended to defeat the plotting, even if it had attracted moviegoers to the cinemas in the first place. If anything, in spite of being an American production The Longest Day owed much to the style of the British war film that was just beginning to be eclipsed in popularity by fresher genres, including the spy movie that Sean Connery here (pretending to be Irish) was about to attain superstardom with. The type of war story that followed from here to the end of the decade opted more for the men on a mission style that The Guns of Navarone ushered in.
With this, on the other hand, we were being assured that historical accuracy was being served up, and the gleaming black and white visuals did achieve a sense of authenticity, the odd sixties haircut aside. Part of this was down to the way in which each nationality spoke in their original language, with subtitles where necessary, always a sign that the filmmakers were taking their task seriously. There were humorous aspects, as when the missing medic shows up gruffly admiitting his glider went way off target, but mostly this was about either the tragedy of war, with characters we have grown to like getting gunned down or blown up, or the spectacle of explosions and military hardware doing their thing. There was, however, a change of mood for the last scene but one as Richard Burton showed up to ruminate over the meaning and purpose of war, which might make you feel a bit guilty about enjoying the derring-do of the previous three hours. Music by Maurice Jarre.