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).
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.
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.
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- It is a common misconception that Bill Millin, the piper who accompanies Lord Lovat to Normandy with his bagpipes, played himself in the film. He was actually portrayed by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, the official piper to the Queen Mother in 1961.
- In Sainte-Mère-Église, John Steele from the 82nd Airborne (played by Red Buttons) has been memorialized by the local population with a dummy hanging from a parachute from the church tower on which he accidentally landed.
- 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.
- Joseph Lowe landed on Omaha Beach and scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day. He repeated the climb for the cameras 17 years later as a serving member of the 505th Airborne Battle Group who provided US Army film extras.
- 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.
- The film marked the last film appearance of Sean Connery before he was cast in the role of James Bond. Gert Fröbe (Sgt. Kaffeekanne) and Curd Jürgens (Gen. Günther Blumentritt) would later go on to play Bond villains Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger (1964)) and Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me) respectively. Connery would later play Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, which was also based on a book by Cornelius Ryan. (Likewise Wolfgang Preiss played Maj. Gen. Max Pemsel in The Longest Day and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt in A Bridge Too Far.)
- 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 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.
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.”