Skip to main content

An invasion of Normandy would be against all military logic. It would be against any logic at all.

The Longest Day
(1962)

(SPOILERS) It certainly felt like it. Three interminable hours that even playing “spot the star cameo” couldn’t relieve. It’s salient to note that both this and A Bridge Too Far were based on epic accounts of epic wartime operations by Cornelius Ryan, but whereas William Goldman managed to turn the latter into a surprisingly remarkable screenplay and Richard Attenborough into a surprisingly good film, here Ryan, adapting himself (with additional material credited to four other writers), induces mostly lethargy. He never finds an effective means to thread the various incidents and beachheads and responses together into a coherent whole, so you’re left with material that feels rather formless and directionless.

Of which, there were three credited directors (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki for British and French, American, and German scenes respectively) and two uncredited (Gerd Oswald and producer Darryl F Zanuck), which isn’t a case of too many cooks so much as the ones in charge of the menu picking flavourless dishes. Numerous pieces are set up in the D-Day landings, but without any sense of co-ordinating tension between them.

As problematic is that the star power on display is rarely in service of relatable characters, involved in a relatable way with the action. The likes of John Wayne (in a role Chuck Heston failed in his bid for), Richard Todd (playing a major in the bridge assault he was actually a part of), Henry Fonda (as Theodore Roosevelt Jr), Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum play real-life figures involved in the landings but lend little impact other than “Oh look, it’s…” Kenneth More is alone among his peers as Captain Maud, on Juno Beach with his bulldog (Churchill, natch), complaining in highly oblivious, upper-crust British manner about incidentals (“The Sooner you people get off the beach, the sooner they’ll stop this blasted shelling! It’s very bad for the dog”).

Faring better are the invented troops, many of them grunts. Yeah, there are fairly non-descript and earnest roles for the likes of Richard Beymer (just off West Side Story), Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter (not yet Captain Pike). But we also get Roddy McDowall providing some nervy honesty (along with Richard Burton, he took a break from the interminable Cleopatra to provide a gratis cameo, just to do something, anything) and Leslie Philips sporting a truly massive moustache. Gert Fröbe also shows up, as does Sean Connery, pre-Bond as a chipper work-shy Scot (“Yeah, it takes an Irishman to play the pipes”) and André Bourvil, in basically the same role he’d play in Anakin’s later Monte Carlo or Bust, is a pissed Frenchman.

Only a couple really stand out in the context of what the film is nominally trying to achieve, however. In fact, ironically, the MVP is Burton, who in about two scenes gives you a glimpse of how this could have been, if the makers had intended to make something other than mere empty spectacle. In the first, his fighter pilot explains where a pal, Johnny, has disappeared to (“At the bottom… of the channel”) and in the second, Beymer comes across him, bleeding out, his leg stitched together with paperclips (“I’m dying for a cigarette”). He asks Beymer if he has ever killed a man, before admitting of his felled opponent, “Neither had I, face to face”. You can only really make a claim to Burton, Connery and McDowall offering that bit extra to the standard fare.

There are heroics, of course, and blunders (be it Germans ignoring the obvious or US paratroopers mown down when the drop zone is overshot), and human touches, but very little exerts a dramatic hold. And there are memorable vignettes: a priest in search of his submerged communion set; homing pigeons heading in the wrong direction (“Damn traitors!”); nuns arriving to help the wounded but looking as if they’ve stepped out of a Python sketch. There’s also a genuinely fascinating scene regarding the fake paratroopers (“He’s um, a very extraordinary fellow, Rupert. He’s a sort of weapon – send them to hell”). But it amounts too little and fails to adhere.

According to Anthony Holden’s The Secret History of the Oscars, The New York Times levelled the charge at block vote-controlling studio moguls of behind the scenes “vote-swapping of outrageous proportions” with regard to the Best Picture nods for this and Mutiny on the Bounty: blockbusters that, rather suspiciously, had no nominations in the directing, acting and writing categories. Zanuck, unsurprisingly, defended himself against such claims. It’s quite believable, as this is clearly a nomination for size and expense (a price tag between $7.75 and $10m), not quality. The Longest Day won two Oscars (Cinematography and Special Effects), but a production so turgid should never have been in line of sight of the big prize.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

So the moral of the story is, better Red Riding Hood than dead Riding Hood. You read me?

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
(SPOILERS) Despite its pedigree – director and writer Billy Wilder reteaming with Jack Lemmon, the first teaming of Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a clutch of Oscar nominations – The Fortune Cookie isn’t up there with the best of Wilder’s Lemmon collaborations. Which were, at this point, in the past.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.