Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Longest Day

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The Longest Day is a 1962 epic war film based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, The Longest Day (1959), about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, who paid author Ryan $175,000 for the film rights. The screenplay was by Ryan, with additional material written by Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, and Jack Seddon. It was directed by Ken Annakin (British and French exteriors), Andrew Marton (American exteriors), and Bernhard Wicki (German scenes).

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The Longest Day, which was made in black and white, features a large ensemble cast including John Wayne, Kenneth More, Richard Todd, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Steve Forrest, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, Eddie Albert, Jeffrey Hunter, Stuart Whitman, Tom Tryon, Rod Steiger, Leo Genn, Gert Fröbe, Irina Demick, Bourvil, Curt Jürgens, George Segal, Robert Wagner, Paul Anka and Arletty. Many of these actors played roles that were essentially cameo appearances. In addition, several cast members — including Fonda, Genn, More, Steiger and Todd — saw action as servicemen during the war, with Todd actually being among the first British officers to land in Normandy in Operation Overlord — in fact he participated in the assault on Pegasus Bridge.

The film employed several Axis and Allied military consultants who had been actual participants on D-Day. Many had their roles re-enacted in the film. These included Günther Blumentritt (a former German general), James M. Gavin (an American general), Frederick Morgan (Deputy Chief of Staff at SHAEF), John Howard (who led the airborne assault on the Pegasus Bridge), Lord Lovat (who commanded the 1st Special Service Brigade), Philippe Kieffer (who led his men in the assault on Ouistreham), Pierre Koenig (who commanded the Free French Forces in the invasion), Max Pemsel (a German general), Werner Pluskat (the major who was the first German officer to see the invasion fleet), Josef “Pips” Priller (the hot-headed pilot), and Lucie Rommel (widow of German Gen. Erwin Rommel).



The movie is filmed in the style of a docudrama. Beginning in the days leading up to D-Day, it concentrates on events on both sides of the Channel, such as the Allies waiting for the break in the poor weather and anticipating the reaction of the Axis forces defending northern France. The film pays particular attention to the decision by Gen. Eisenhower, supreme commander of SHAEF, to go after reviewing the initial bad-weather reports as well as reports about the divisions within the German High Command as to where an invasion might happen or what the response to it should be.

Numerous scenes document the early hours of June 6, when Allied airborne troops were sent to take key locations inland from the beaches. The French resistance is also shown reacting to the news that an invasion has started. The Longest Day chronicles most of the important events surrounding D-Day, from the British glider missions to secure Pegasus Bridge, the counterattacks launched by American paratroopers scattered around Sainte-Mère-Église, the infiltration and sabotage work conducted by the French resistance and SOE agents, to the response by the Wehrmacht to the invasion and the uncertainty of German commanders as to whether it was a feint in preparation for crossings at the Pas de Calais (see Operation Fortitude), where the senior German staff had always assumed it would occur.

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Set-piece scenes include the parachute drop into Sainte-Mère-Église, the advance inshore from the Normandy beaches, the US Ranger Assault Group’s assault on the Pointe du Hoc, the attack on Ouistreham by Free French Forces and the strafing of the beaches by two lone Luftwaffe pilots.

The film concludes with a montage showing various Allied units consolidating their beachheads before the advance inland.




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 Eddie Albert               Colonel Thompson, 29th Infantry Division

Paul Anka                   Private, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Richard Beymer        Private Arthur ‘Dutch’ Schultz, 82nd Airborne Division

Red Buttons               Private John Steele, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Gary Collins               Officer on destroyer bridge (uncredited)

John Crawford          Colonel Eugene Caffey, Commander, 1st Engineer Special Brigade 

Mark Damon              Private Harris (uncredited)

Ray Danton                Captain Frank, 29th Infantry Division

Fred Dur                      Major, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Fabian                          Private, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Mel Ferrer                Major General Robert Haines, (SHAEF)

Henry Fonda           Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Steve Forrest              Captain Harding, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Henry Grace              General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, SHAEF

Peter Helm                 Young private, 29th Infantry Division

Jeffrey Hunter           Sergeant John H. Fuller, combat engineer, 29th Infantry Division

Alexander Knox        Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff, SHAEF

Dewey Martin             Private Wilder

Roddy McDowall      Private Morris, 4th Infantry Division

John Meillon              Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces (uncredited)

Sal Mineo                   Private Martini, 82nd Airborne Division

Robert Mitchum       Brigadier General Norman Cota, Assistant Commander, 29th Infantry

Tony Mordente         Cook, 82nd Airborne Division (uncredited)

Bill Nagy                     Major, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Edmond O’Brien       Major General Raymond O. Barton, Commander, 4th Infantry Division

Ron Randell               Joe Williams, war correspondent

Robert Ryan               Brigadier General James M. Gavin, Assistant Commander, 82nd Airborne Division

Tommy Sands             Private, 2nd Ranger Battalion

George Segal               Private, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Bob Steele                    Paratrooper, 82nd Airborne Division (uncredited)

Rod Steiger                   Destroyer commander, United States Navy

Nicholas Stuart           Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, Commander, First Army

Tom Tryon                   Lieutenant Wilson, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Robert Wagner         Private, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Joe Warfield              Army medic (uncredited)

John Wayne              Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort

Stuart Whitman        Lieutenant Sheen, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment



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Patrick Barr                      Group Captain James Stagg, Chief Meteorological Adviser, SHAEF

Lyndon Brook                    Lieutenant Walsh

Richard Burton                Flying Officer David Campbell, Royal Air Force fighter pilot

Bryan Coleman               Ronald Callen, war correspondent (uncredited)

Sean Connery                  Private Flanagan, 3rd Infantry Division

Richard Dawson             British soldier (uncredited)

Jack Hedley                     6th Airborne Division briefing officer (uncredited)

Leslie de Laspee            Piper Bill Millin, 1st Special Service Brigade (uncredited)

Frank Finlay                    Private Coke (uncredited)

Harry Fowler                    Soldier, 6th Airborne Division (uncredited)

Bernard Fox                     Lance-Corporal Hutchinson, Royal Armoured Corps (uncredited)

Leo Genn                         Major-general at SHAEF

Harold Goodwin             Soldier in glider (uncredited)

John Gregson                  Padre, 6th Airborne Division

Walter Horsbrugh          Rear-Admiral George Creasy

Donald Houston             RAF fighter pilot in mess

Patrick Jordan                 British officer (uncredited)

Simon Lack                        Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

Harry Landis                    British soldier (uncredited)

Peter Lawford                  Brigadier Lord Lovat, Commander, 1st Special Service Brigade

Neil McCallum                Canadian medical officer (uncredited)

Victor Maddern               Cook (uncredited)

H. Marion-Crawford      Major Jacob Vaughan, Medical Officer

Michael Medwin            Private Watney, Universal Carrier driver, 3rd Infantry Division

Kenneth More                 Acting Captain Colin Maud, Royal Navy Beachmaster, Juno Beach

Louis Mounier                 Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder

Leslie Phillips                  RAF officer with French Resistance

Siân Phillips                   Wren assistant to Stagg (uncredited)

Trevor Reid                      General Sir Bernard Montgomery

John Robinson                Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief

Norman Rossington       Lance-Corporal Clough, 3rd Infantry Division

Richard Todd                    Major John Howard, OC

Richard Wattis                Major, 6th Airborne Division



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Arletty                               Madame Barrault, resident of Sainte-Mère-Église

Jean-Louis Barrault     Father Louis Roulland, parish priest of Sainte-Mère-Église

Yves Barsacq                   French Resistance man, Caen (uncredited)

André Bourvil                  Alphonse Lenaux, Mayor of Colleville-sur-Mer

Pauline Carton                Louis’s housekeeper

Jean Champion               French Resistance man, Caen (uncredited)

Irina Demick                   Janine Boitard, French Resistance, Caen

Bernard Fresson             Fusilier Marin Commando (uncredited)

Clément Harari               Arrested man (uncredited)

Fernand Ledoux              Louis, elderly farmer

Christian Marquand      Capitaine de Corvette Philippe Kieffer

Maurice Poli                    Jean, French Resistance, Caen (uncredited)

Madeleine Renaud       Mother superior in Ouistreham

Georges Rivière              Second-Maître Guy de Montlaur, 1er Bataillon de Fusiliers Marins 

Jean Servais                    Contre-amiral Robert Jaujard

Alice Tissot                     Lenaux’s housekeeper (uncredited)

Georges Wilson             Alexandre Renaud, Mayor of Sainte-Mère-Église

Dominique Zardi            Spitfire pilot (uncredited)



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Hans Christian Blech     Major Werner Pluskat, 352nd Artillery Regiment

Wolfgang Büttner           Generalleutnant Dr. Hans Speidel, Chief of Staff, Army Group B

Eugene Deckers              Major in church (uncredited)

Robert Freitag                 Meyer’s aide (uncredited)

Gert Fröbe                       Unteroffizier “Kaffeekanne” (“coffee pot”)

Walter Gotell                  German soldier (uncredited)

Paul Hartmann              Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander, OB West

Ruth Hausmeister         Lucie Rommel, Rommel’s wife (uncredited)

Michael Hinz                   Manfred Rommel, Rommel’s son (uncredited)

Werner Hinz                    Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, Commander, Army Group B

Karl John                          Generalleutnant Wolfgang Häger, Luftwaffe Kommando West

Curt Jürgens                    General der Infanterie Günther Blumentritt, Chief of Staff, OB West

Til Kiwe                              Hauptmann Helmuth Lang, ADC to Rommel (uncredited)

Wolfgang Lukschy         Generaloberst Alfred Jodl

Kurt Meisel                        Hauptmann Ernst Düring (uncredited)

Richard Münch                General der Artillerie Erich Marcks, Commander, LXXXIV Army Corps

Rainer Penkert                Leutnant Fritz Theen, 352nd Artillery Regiment

Wolfgang Preiss             Generalleutnant Max Pemsel, Chief of Staff, 7th Army

Hartmut Reck                  Oberfeldwebel Bernhard Bergsdorf, pilot, Jagdgeschwader 26

Heinz Reincke                 Oberstleutnant Josef Priller, Kommodore, Jagdgeschwader 26 

Paul Edwin Roth             Oberst Schiller (uncredited)

Dietmar Schönherr         Häger’s aide (uncredited)

Ernst Schröder                 Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth, Commander, 15th Army

Hans Söhnker                 Pemsel’s staff officer (uncredited)

Heinz Spitzner                Oberstleutnant Helmuth Meyer, Chief of Intelligence, 15th Army (uncredited)

Peter van Eyck                 Oberstleutnant Ocker, 352nd Artillery Regiment

Vicco von Bülow             Pemsel’s adjutant (uncredited)





French producer Raoul Lévy signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to purchase the filming rights to Cornelius Ryan’s novel The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, on March 23, 1960.

After finishing The Truth, Lévy set up a deal with the Associated British Picture Corporation and got director Michael Anderson attached. Ryan would receive $100,000, plus $35,000 to write the adaptation’s screenplay.

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Lévy intended to start production in March 1961, filming at Elstree Studios and the English and French coasts. But the project went into a halt once ABPC could not get the $6 million budget Lévy expected. Eventually former 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck learned about the book while producing The Big Gamble, and in December purchased Lévy’s option for $175,000. Zanuck’s editor friend Elmo Williams wrote a film treatment, which piqued the producer’s interest and made him attach Williams to The Longest Day aa associate producer and coordinator of battle episodes. Ryan was brought in to write the script, but had conflicts with Zanuck as soon as the two met. Williams was forced to act as a mediator; he would deliver Ryan’s script pages to Zanuck, then return them with the latter’s annotations.

While Ryan developed the script, Zanuck also brought in other writers for cleanups, including James Jones and Romain Gary. As their contributions to the finished screenplay were relatively minor, Ryan managed to get the screenplay credit after an appeal to the Writers Guild arbitration, but the four other writers are credited for “additional scenes” in the closing credits.

During pre-production, producer Frank McCarthy, who had worked for the United States Department of War during World War II, arranged for military collaboration with the governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Zanuck also realized that with eight battle scenes, shooting would be accomplished more expediently if multiple directors and units worked simultaneously. He contacted with German directors Gerd Oswald and Bernhard Wicki, the British Ken Annakin, and the American Andrew Marton. Zanuck’s son Richard D. Zanuck was reluctant about the project, particularly the high budget.



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The film was shot at several French locations including the Île de Ré, Saleccia beach in Saint-Florent, Haute-Corse, Port-en-Bessin-Huppain filling in for Ouistreham, Les Studios de Boulogne in Boulogne-Billancourt and the actual locations of Pegasus Bridge near Bénouville, Calvados, Sainte-Mère-Église and Pointe du Hoc.

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During the filming of the landings at Omaha Beach, the extras appearing as American soldiers did not want to jump off the landing craft into the water because they thought it would be too cold. Robert Mitchum, who played Gen. Norman Cota, became disgusted with their trepidation. He jumped in first, at which point the extras followed his example.

The Rupert paradummies used in the film were far more elaborate and lifelike than those actually used in the decoy parachute drop (Operation Titanic), which were simply canvas or burlap sacks filled with sand. In the real operation, six Special Air Service soldiers jumped with the dummies and played recordings of loud battle noises to distract the Germans.

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With a budget of $10,000,000, this was the most expensive black-and-white film made until 1993, when Schindler’s List was released. In the scenes where the paratroopers land, the background noise of frogs croaking “ribbit ribbit” was incorrect for northern French frog species and showed that the film probably used an American recording of background night noises.

Darryl Zanuck hired several former military personnel to aid in direction. The director of American exteriors was Andrew Martin, director of British exteriors was Ken Annakin, director of German exteriors was Gerd Oswald. This was to ensure the most authentic military procedures.

The film stayed on Sight and Sound’s “A Guide to Current Films” for almost two years after being released. The Guide is a list of films of special interest to the journal and usually suggest that readers should view the film because of its high quality.

Colin Maud loaned Kenneth More the shillelagh he carried ashore in the actual invasion (More had served as an officer in the Royal Navy during WWII, albeit not as a Beachmaster); similarly, Richard Todd wore the D-Day helmet worn by his character, Maj. John Howard. In the film, three Free French Special Air Service paratroopers jump into France before British and American airborne landings. This is accurate. Thirty-six Free French SAS (4 sticks) jumped into Brittany (Plumelec and Duault) on June 5 at 23:30, (operation Dingson). The first Allied soldiers killed in action were Lt. Den Brotheridge of the 2nd Ox & Bucks Light Infantry as he crossed Pegasus Bridge at 00:22 on June 6 and Corporal Emile Bouétard of the 4th Free French SAS battalion, at the same time in Plumelec, Brittany.

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The United States Sixth Fleet extensively supported the filming and made available many amphibious landing ships and craft for scenes filmed in Corsica, though many of the ships were of (then) modern vintage. The Springfield and Little Rock, both World War II light cruisers (though extensively reconfigured into guided missile cruisers) were used in the shore bombardment scenes, though it was easy to tell they did not resemble their wartime configurations.

Gerd Oswald was the uncredited director of the parachute drop scenes into Sainte-Mère-Église. Darryl F. Zanuck said that he himself directed some uncredited pick-ups with American and British interiors. Elmo Williams was credited as associate producer and coordinator of battle episodes. He later produced another historical WWII film, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), for Zanuck. Like The Longest Day, it used a docudrama style, although it was in color. It depicted the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.



  • Charlton Heston actively sought the role of Lt. Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort, but the last-minute decision of John Wayne to take the role prevented Heston’s participation. At 55 Wayne was 28 years older than Vandervoort at the time of action (and 10 years older in real life). While everyone else accepted $25,000 as payment, Wayne insisted on $250,000 to punish producer Zanuck for referring to him as “poor John Wayne,” regarding Wayne’s problems with his lavish movie The Alamo.
  • Zanuck hired more than 2,000 legitimate soldiers for the film as extras.
  • Kaffeekanne (played by Gert Fröbe)’s name is German for “coffee pot”, which he always carries.
  • Richard Todd, who played Maj. John Howard, leader of the British airborne assault on the Pegasus Bridge, took part in the real bridge assault on D-Day. He was offered the chance to play himself but took the part of Maj. Howard instead. In the film, shortly after the British have captured the Orne bridge (later renamed Horsa Bridge), one of the soldiers tells Todd, playing Howard, that all they have to do now is sit tight and await the arrival of the 7th Parachute Battalion, to which Todd’s character replies dismissively: “the Paras are always late”. This was a private joke, as Todd had been the adjutant of the 7th Parachute Battalion on D-Day.
  • Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered for the role of himself in the film, and he indicated his willingness. However, it was decided that makeup artists couldn’t make him appear young enough to play his World War II self. The role of Gen. Eisenhower went to Henry Grace, a set decorator with no acting experience but who had been in the film industry since the mid-1930s. He was a dead ringer for the younger Eisenhower, though his voice differed.
  • Mel Ferrer was originally signed to play the role of Gen. James M. Gavin but withdrew from the role due to a scheduling conflict.
  • According to the 2001 documentary Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood, Richard Burton and Roddy McDowall were so bored having not been used for several weeks while filming in Rome that they phoned Zanuck begging to do “anything” on his film. They flew themselves to the location and each did a day’s filming for their cameo-performances for free.



The film premièred in France on 25 September 1962, followed by the United States on 4 October and 23 October for the United Kingdom. Given Fox was suffering with the financial losses from Cleopatra, the studio was intending for The Longest Day to have a wide release to reap quick profits. Zanuck forced them to do a proper Roadshow theatrical release, even threatening to sell distribution to Warner Bros. if Fox refused to do so. The Longest Day eventually became the box office hit Fox needed, with $30 million in worldwide rentals on a $7.5 million budget.

There were special-release showings of the film in several United States cities. Participants in D-Day were invited to see the film with their fellow soldiers—in Cleveland, Ohio, this took place at the Hippodrome Theater.

Unique for British- and American-produced World War II films of the time, all French and German characters speak in their own languages with subtitles in English. Another version, which was shot simultaneously, has all the actors speaking their lines in English (this version was used for the film’s trailer, as all the Germans deliver their lines in English). However, this version saw limited use during the initial release. It was used more extensively during a late 1960s re-release of the film. The English-only version has been featured as an extra on older single disc DVD releases.


The Book

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The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, published in 1959, tells the story of the main D-Day invasion as well as details of Operation Deadstick, the coup de main operation by glider-borne troops to capture both Pegasus Bridge and Horse Bridge before the main assault on the Normandy beaches. It sold tens of millions of copies in eighteen different languages.

The book is not a dry military history, but rather a story about people, and reads at times like a novel. It is based on interviews with a cross-section of participants, including U.S., Canadian, British, French and German officers and civilians.

The book begins and ends in the village of La Roche-Guyon. The book refers to the village as being the most occupied village in occupied France and states that for each of the 543 inhabitants of La Roche-Guyon there were more than three German soldiers in the village and surrounding area. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel commander-in-chief of Army Group B had his headquarters in the castle of the village which was the seat of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld.

Ryan’s book is divided into three parts: the first part is titled The Wait, the second The Night , and the third The Day. The book includes a section on the casualties of D-Day and also lists the contributors including their service details on the day of the invasion and their occupations at the time the book was first published.

Researchers spent almost three years locating survivors of D-Day and over 3,000 interviews were undertaken in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Germany. 383 accounts of D Day were used in the text of the book.

Senior Allied officers who assisted the author included General Maxwell D. Taylor, Lieutenant General James Gavin, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick E. Morga,n and General Sir Richard Nelson Gale. German officers who assisted with the book included Generaloberst Franz Halder, Hauptmann Hellmuth Lang, and General der Infanterie Günther Blumentritt. The author also used Allied and German post action reports, war diaries, histories and official records.

Cornelius Ryan dedicated his book to all the men of D Day.

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The book takes its name from a comment made by Erwin Rommel to his aide Hauptmann Helmuth Lang on April 22, 1944: “…the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive… the fate of Germany depends on the outcome… for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.”