The Longest Day is a three-hour opus following all the events leading up to and in execution of D-Day.
This 1962 docudrama has the distinction of being the most expensive black and white film made at the time (it would be ousted by Schindler’s List). At a diffuse three-hours the title isn’t kidding and shows a thorough, practical depiction of the storming of Normandy and other events during D-Day. Where The Longest Day differs from other motion pictures in the war genre is in illustrating these events as an international effort; this is considered one of the rare war movies to allow the actors representing different countries to speak in their accents. The movie doesn’t say that America fought the war single-handed, and/or came in after the English had bungled it up and saved the day. No, the US and the British cooperate to stave off the Germans. In fact, the sequence of country introductions mimics specific countries involvement in the war. The first thirty minutes details the German and British ways of fighting the war, with the American viewpoint being the last; the US was the last country to join the Allies. It’s a refreshing change of pace from war and action movies that are staunchly “America fought every war by itself.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a star-studded Hollywood film (produced at the same time as Cleopatra which caused a host of problems) without an all-star, and yes, international, cast. Several of the actors here have cameos but regardless, the talent on display is unparalleled. There’s enough rampant testosterone to cause anyone to swoon: John Wayne (who’s so tough he walks on a compound fracture!), Henry Fonda obviously, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Wagner, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, Sean Connery. I can envision myself rewatching this and noticing actors I hadn’t realized were there. In that regard, it’s similar to modern war stories like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. Clashing with modern war movies is The Longest Day’s usage of practical effects. So much of our war footage is reliant on CGI, and in The Longest Day there’s train derailment, people parachuting out of planes, and other stunts that I can only imagine are practical effects. The cinematography, particularly a POV shot from a plane has been recreated in countless war movies today. I don’t consider this a film I’d pop in for a good time, simply because of that exorbitant runtime and the fact that there’s never a “fun” time to watch a war movie, in my opinion. Other than that, The Longest Day is a somber look at a time in our nation’s history where we did come together to persevere.
The Joad family are indigent tenant farmers who have been kicked off their land and are forced to relocate. With benevolent matriarch Ma (Jane Darwell) and parolee son Tom (Fonda), the family struggle in their desire to achieve the American dream.
The Grapes of Wrath is the quintessential novel/movie about America’s struggles. Director John Ford has detailed the pioneer spirit, and the fears of progress in his other film that I reviewed, My Darling Clementine, but this struggle captures the time and spirit of the 1930s. Countless families in the “Dust Bowl” were forced out of their homes and suffered torturous journeys to get California: the land of opportunity. In Ford’s ode to the American spirit he emphasizes family, community, and the need to rise up. Fonda has played several characters who fear rocking the boat or making too much noise; and while Tom starts out that way he understands a key element of change is striking out against the herd. I might take some flack but this isn’t my favorite Fonda role, although he is fantastic as the temperamental man who wants to put his past behind him. He’s the leader of the Joad family, whether he wants to be or not, and you can see Fonda’s heart tear in two when he makes the decision to help his family by leaving them behind. All great men in America are who they are by creating something new, and Tom Joad could be one of those men. Having watched My Darling Clementine before this, I might have colored my perspective. Both films deal with the horrors of progress; where that film embraced it, this movie mourns its inevitability, exemplified by a man on a tractor – set to bulldoze a farm – telling one of the farmers that it doesn’t matter if he’s stopped, someone else will come in his place. Throughout the movie anyone driving a slick car is immediately an enemy because it’s apparent that person doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care, about the growing gap in class and wealth. The Grapes of Wrath espouses a populist way of life that’s considered Communistic by the police; when the Joad’s finally get to the camp that accepts them for who they are, the owner looks similar to Franklin Roosevelt. We also understand that dispossession is part of our American heritage; the Joads pass a village of Native-Americans whose land was taken before. It’s a cyclical story that’s never harped on but always present. Other than Fonda, Jane Darwell is the soul of the movie as Ma. She has so many scenes that convey raw, unrestrained emotion that is palpable. Her and Tom have a relationship that is dependent (in her case), and yet she understands the need for progress. I won’t go too deep in to the movie, simply for the sake of space, but there’s a reason The Grapes of Wrath finds itself on several “must-wach” lists.
In terms of bonus content: The Longest Day lacks any and all bonus features (maybe due to length?). The Grapes of Wrath has a solid, scene-specific, commentary with film historians Joseph McBride and Susan Shillinglaw that’s worth a listen; it also includes the unique UK prologue that’s text-based; a 45-minute featurette on Darryl F. Zanuck that’s a brisk yet comprehensive look at the iconic producer alongside a MovieTone News feature on the film; there’s also a restoration comparison, stills gallery, and trailer.
The box set, overall, is worth a purchase for the mix of film genres represented and the performances Fonda gives. You gain a true understanding of his diversity, regardless of the quality of the movie. With that being said, not all these movies are good. I enjoyed My Darling Clementine and The Ox-Bow Incident the best; I really enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath, Jesse James, and The Longest Day; I felt eh about Drums Along the Mohawk and hated Immortal Sergeant, The Boston Strangler and Daisy Kenyon. If your dad enjoys Fonda, war/Westerns, or just a solid body of work, it’s worth a purchase!
Ronnie Rating for The Longest Day:
Ronnie Rating for The Grapes of Wrath:
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.