The Longest Day

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Longest-day- 9884.jpg

The Longest Day was the title of a book by Cornelius Ryan describing the events of D-Day through the eyes of as many of the participants - Allied, German and local inhabitants - as he could find and interview.

In 1962, the book was made into a film with an All-Star Cast and Loads and Loads of Characters. Rather than focusing on one particular group of participants in the manner of Saving Private Ryan, the work aimed to provide an overview of the events of D-Day as they unfolded. Viewpoint characters include French resistance fighters, German generals and local commanders, Allied generals and commanders as well as members of the Airborne troops, Rangers, infantry, air force and navy components of the landings.

Because the film was made just 20 years after the events it depicts, many of the older actors had fought in World War Two, and some had even taken part in the landings - Richard Todd even played his own commanding officer from 1944[1].

Another Cornelius Ryan book, A Bridge Too Far, later got a similar all-star-cast big movie treatment.

Tropes used in The Longest Day include:
  • The Ace: Josef Priller, a fighter wing commander and one of the two German airmen later seen strafing the beaches on the day as mentioned below in Worthy Opponent (the other being his wingman Heinz Wodarczyk). His ace status is referred to during the phone conversation early on in the film in which he basically asks "where the hell are my planes?"
  • America Saves the Day: Averted. The British and French divisions of the Normandy landings do their part in reaching their objectives. Almost subverted with Omaha Beach, where the Americans were stuck until a Heroic Sacrifice opens up the German defenses.
  • Anyone Can Die: This is a war movie about the Normandy landings where thousands of soldiers got killed. Half the cast is bound to die doing something heroic, something foolish, or both, before the credits roll.
  • Artistic License Ships: They tried to avert this by only showing the warships in silhouette, but all that did was exaggerate their obviously postwar lattice masts.
  • As Himself: Almost. Actor Richard Todd plays John Howard, the Major whose unit secures Pegasus Bridge. One of the relief units coming to their aid was led by Captain Richard Todd!
    • Played straight with Joseph Lowe, one of the cliff climbers at Utah Beach who reprized his efforts for the movie.
    • Also played straight by Bill Millin, the bagpiper with Lord Lovat's commandos.
  • Battle Epic
  • Bilingual Bonus: Although a fairly obvious one. A German runs out of a bunker shouting "bitte, bitte". An American Ranger shoots him and says "I wonder what 'bitter, bitter' means.". "Bitte" is the German for "please".
  • Bloodless Carnage
  • Chroma Key: Quite obviously when Rommel speaks to his generals atop the Atlantikwall; also during the landing-craft scenes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Loads and loads.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: To give the film a documentary/newsreel feel, as well as to take advantage of actual footage that survived the landings themselves.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: You're driving a hay cart with two Resistance operatives hiding in the hay. You need to get past a German checkpoint. So you arrange for an insanely hot lady Resistance fighter to arrive at the checkpoint at the same time, riding a bike, showing off cleavage with a half-unbuttoned blouse. It works like a charm.
    • Later subverted when she tries the same trick to distract a late-night German patrol from discovering the explosives in the railway tracks and nearly gets killed in the process.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: "Two clicks... I heard... two clicks..."
  • Dying Moment of Awesome
  • The Engineer: Naturally, when you're up against a big concrete wall, you call in this guy.
  • Field Promotion: When Brigadier General Norman Cota (Robert Mitchum) finds that the highest ranking Army engineer is Sergeant John H. Fuller, he promotes Fuller to lieutenant and puts him in charge of demolishing a concrete barrier.
  • Four-Star Badass: He didn't have the four stars, but Brigadier General Roosevelt (Fonda) was the highest-ranking officer on the beaches that day. And it was his leadership during the early stages of confusion that kept the Americans on track.
  • General Failure: The Germans have to ask Hitler for permission to use the 21st Panzer Division in a counterattack, and no-one dares wake him up.
  • Heroic BSOD: That horrified look on paratrooper John Steele's face as he dangles from the St. Mere Eglise church belltower...
  • Hollywood Nuns: At Ouistreham, a group of French nuns walk into the hotel where the French commandos are fighting from to tend to their wounded. This did not happen in real life.
  • Ironic Echo: The Resistance code phrase, "Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor," gets repeated by Gen. Blumentritt when he realizes none of his superiors will do anything against the Allies landing at Normandy. He knows in that moment Germany will lose the war.
  • Irony: Two characters, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort (John Wayne) [Allies] and Major General Gunther Blumentritt (Curd Jürgens) [Germans], wonder aloud "which side God's on" to their respective subordinates.
    • General Marcks, a Wehrmacht division commander, plans to assault Normandy while role-playing as General Eisenhower (the Allied commander), in the German war game in Rennes, because such a move is "inconceivable" to his colleagues. When news of the invasion comes to him, he can only look at the map and laugh at himself.
      • When Marcks explains his attack plan to an underling, even he thinks Eisenhower is too cautious and would never use that plan. Cut to Eisenhower meeting with his Generals to discuss the weather conditions, with Eisenhower deciding "I'm quite positive we must give the order. I don't like it, but there it is. Gentlemen, I don't see how we can possibly do anything... but go."
    • Also the aforementioned Dramatic Gun Cock moment. A young paratrooper lands in an isolated area, and suddenly hears somebody nearby. He instantly (as he was instructed) unpacks his little communication tool (a tin click-clack toy), and gives a signal (one click-clack), and awaits two click-clacks in return, if the other person were another paratrooper. He in fact hears two click clacks right away, and goes to greet the person in relief. Suddenly,he is shot in the stomach. He manages to mutter, "Two clicks. I heard two clicks!" and dies. It turns out the mysterious person was a patrolling German. The 2 click-clacks the paratrooper heard was in fact the German instinctively loading and cocking his gun upon hearing the awkward click-clack sound. The contraption designed to preserve the paratrooper's life instead caused his death.
  • It's Raining Men: Including, unfortunately for those dropping, straight onto a heavily defended town they were supposed to land outside of, then march in to capture.
    • And on a more humorous note, straight onto a German general's headquarters.

"Terribly sorry, old man. We simply landed here by accident."

  • La Résistance
  • Large Ham: Priller is normally a Deadpan Snarker, but when addressing his superior, who's just informed him of the latest bureaucratic stupidity as though it were sense, he becomes a very hammy snarker.

You were a lousy pilot when we flew into Russia. Now you're flying a desk and you're STILL A LOUSY PILOT!

  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Most of the officer characters are this, on both sides.
  • Oh Scheiße: "Pluskat, where are those ships heading?" "STRAIGHT FOR ME!"
  • The Oner: A long overhead tracking shot of the Free French forces taking Ouistreham. It follows the troops running from cover to cover, crossing pedestrian bridges, taking fire, heading upriver toward a target that the camera eventually reveals is a casino building fortified into a massive German bunker. View it here.
  • Only Sane Man: Blumentritt. He's the one German officer who can see this is the critical battle and tries to get his superiors to deploy the tank reserves that could stop the Allies. No one listens to him.
  • Parachute in a Tree: There's a scene (Based on a True Story) where a paratrooper becomes snagged on a French church spire.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Captain Maud fixing a stalled tank on the beach with a baton.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Roddy McDowall asked for a small role to spare his boredom after Cleopatra was delayed ... AGAIN.
  • Road Sign Reversal: A Reversed Road Sign to Ste.-Mère-Eglise briefly confuses invading Allied forces, until an American officer sees through the trick and orders the sign cut down.
  • Rousing Speech: Several, including the one given by Brigadier General Norman Cota to his men pinned on Omaha Beach: "I don't have to tell you the story. You all know it. Only two kinds of people are gonna stay on this beach: those that are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts! You guys are the Fighting 29th!"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Richard Burton's character is a Battle of Britain veteran who is shot down over Normandy on D-Day.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Averted. The German officers who have speaking roles in the movie are professional military men who are focused on carrying out their missions.
    • Well, let's say most of them. All of those who didn't run off to play war-games or attending birthday parties.
      • The German officers left for war games that had been scheduled for months. Considering the foul weather they didn't expect Eisenhower to give the order.
    • Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt refuses to ask Adolf Hitler for permission to release the Wehrmacht's Panzer reserves, declaring that he would not "bow" to "that Bohemian corporal", diesen böhmischen Gefreiter?!
      • Hitler had it set up so that only he could order the reserve Panzer divisions to move. The refusal to wake him on D-Day was costly to put it mildly.
        • Mildly? When Hitler did wake up, It Got Worse.
          • Though that's only what Blumentritt thinks to have happened. In reality, when Hitler woke up, he was more cheerful than ever about the invasion, because now he was actually able to reach the allied army for the first time in that war, and crush them... theoretically (Not only he didn't manage that... the Soviets got him first). He was so happy, that he started dancing and fell back into his originial alpine Austrian dialect: O'ganga is! (It's on!). But why did he not set the Panzer reserves free? Nobody knows for fact. Even the historians wonder. Okay, I'm finished... The More You Know...)
            • The best the historians can figure is that Hitler was still convinced the Allies would send a larger invasion force at Calais, ignoring the obvious size of the force at Normandy. There's also the possibility that Hitler believed the Americans to be weak and soft enough that the troops already deployed could handle it, despite all the ass-kicking that had already taken place in Africa and Sicily.
    • Actor Curt Jürgens, in his role as the German General Blumentritt, calls the German generals incompetent. Jürgens was actually imprisoned by the Nazis in his youth, so this might be considered a bit of Take That.
    • The only time the phrase "Sieg Heil!" appears in the movie is graffiti on a bunker wall in Ouistreham.
  • Title Drop: When Rommel is discussing the need for building up mass defenses along the French shoreline: that Germany needs to repel any landing before the Allies can secure a firm foothold.

"Believe me, gentlemen, the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive. For the Allies as well as the Germans, it will be the longest day... The longest day."

    • Truth in Television as Rommel really did say this phrase, although without the dramatic repeat at the end.
  • Villain Ball/This Is Your Brain on Evil: Hitler.
  • War Is Hell: The paratroopers crashing into St. Mere Eglise. The paratrooper caught on the belltower (John Steele, played by Red Buttons) can only dangle and watch in horror as his fellow jumpers get mowed down. It really happened that way, too.
    • Omaha Beach. Just... damn.
      • The memorial on Omaha Beach is actually kind of Real Life Tear Jerker in itself (No matter that you smirk a bit when you have to go through metal detectors and checkout in order to enter it. And the fact that when you compare the giant memorial for US soldiers to memorials of other nation armies, which makes irony almost unbearable) - it is nothing but cemetery. Stand in the middle and you can't see the ends.
    • The Utah Beach unit climbing the cliffs to get at the big guns overlooking half the beach-head reach their objectives only to find the Germans hadn't installed the guns into their bunkers yet. "You mean we climbed all this way... for nothing?" In Real Life It Got Worse when those secured positions were fired on by the warships anchored off-shore.
      • In Real Life it wasn't for nothing. The Germans had moved the guns inland prior to the invasion and the US Rangers found and destroyed them.
      • Between this scene and a scene in which one of the Rangers shoots two German soldiers attempting to surrender, many Ranger veterans were quite upset with their portrayal in this film, as they felt they'd been unfairly singled out to deliver the War Is Hell message.
    • "He's dead. I'm crippled. You're lost. Do you suppose it's always like that? I mean war."
  • World War Two
  • Worthy Opponent: Most German soldiers. Special props to the two Luftwaffe pilots available, whom even a British officer admired.
  1. Todd had participated in the Pegasus Bridge operation as a young soldier, and is even shown in the film interacting with "himself", although this is never mentioned in the film