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The Longest Day
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Longest Day, a black-and-white docu-drama released in 1962, is a predominantly accurate depiction of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allied troops invaded German-occupied Europe via the western coast of France. The film, which takes place over one 24-hour period, uses three distinct points of view -- American, English, and German (with subtitles) -- to tell the story. The first two hours reveal the preparations and initial skirmishes that set up the final hour -- a depiction of the massive air and sea battles that launched the Allies' assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Combat is almost continuous. Men are gunned down; lifeless bodies are seen on the beach; some dead hang from trees. Despite that, both graphic violence and brutality are kept to a minimum; the camera does not dwell on the human destruction. An effort is made to show German officers in a balanced way, though some are buffoonish and wrongheaded to the extreme. A momentous achievement when it was released (filmmakers didn't have special effects and computers to rely on), the film retains the historical and emotional impact that was intended. Some smoking, drinking, and a few "hells" and "damns" are heard.
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What's the story?
Based on a respected book of the era, THE LONGEST DAY is June 6, 1944, when Allied troops invaded France by air and sea in a massive effort to make their way into German-occupied territory, which threatened all of Europe. Shot by three directors, responsible for the three countries involved (America, Britain, Germany), the film was the vision of producer Daryl Zanuck, who hoped to deliver the definitive World War II epic. Countless movie stars (John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Eddie Albert, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, and Peter Lawford, along with many of England and Germany's finest actors) joined Zanuck to ensure that the film would be a stellar event. The movie’s first two hours deal with the Allies' critical decision-making and preparations before sunrise, as well as with the Germans' suspicions about and fear of an attack. During this portion, a wide variety of characters is introduced; rooting interest is developed; initial skirmishes take place in the dark; and the stakes are highlighted. The final third shows the relentless battle, the destruction, and the death, culminating in the Allied forces’ initial success that would lead them to victory.
Is it any good?
The Longest Day is a solid, engaging introduction to a heroic chapter in recent world history. A marvel in its day -- imagine re-creating authentic battle sequences without the help of computer-generated special effects or any of the technical advances of the last 50 years -- the film remains an artistic achievement and must be seen as a sincere effort to bring authenticity to a momentous historical event for moviegoers in 1962.
There's a decided simplicity to the story. The characters, as is the film itself, are black and white. The heroes have pure motives, uncompromising values, and steadfast allegiances. Most of the villains are desperate and ferocious in their efforts to hold back the Allied tide or glorify their Führer; some effort was made, however, to humanize at least a few of the German military elite. Though the film is certainly a vivid portrayal of combat, unlike many later battlefield movies, it does not focus on the graphic horrors of death and injury, nor is war depicted with brutal savagery.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the portrayal of war has evolved since this movie was made in 1962. Considered violent and realistic when it was made, how does The Longest Day compare, in terms of both tone and on-screen brutality, to more recent combat films (Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor)?
Why do you think filmmakers sometimes choose to make black-and-white films? Do you see the artistry in the many shades and shadows revealed using this technique? Does the absence of color make it seem more or less real?
Why is it important to know how truthful a historical film actually is? How would you find out about the film's accuracy? Do you favor more authenticity or a "better" story?
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