“Sometimes I wonder which side God’s on.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
We never really get to know any of the characters, though we do pay closer attention to a few — such as Red Buttons’ paratrooper Private Steele, who landed on the pinnacle of a church tower in Sainte-Mère-Église (and ultimately suffered a much better fate than the majority of his compatriots).
For those interested in World War II logistics (i.e., tactics and battles), this film is essential viewing — especially given how accurate it is in many ways. (See either Wikipedia’s entry, IMDb’s Trivia page, or one of several YouTube video reviews — such as the one put out by A Million Movies — for a comprehensive overview.) Of course, there are also some notable gaps and omissions — such as the fact that while 1700 African-American soldiers took place in D-Day, none are shown in this movie.
Cinematically, this film is wonderfully innovative in terms of having native languages spoken by the German and French characters, thus putting the cognitive “lift” on audience-goers to read a few subtitles. (Indeed, English isn’t heard until 10 minutes into the movie.) It’s also, of course, notable for having so many big name stars in the cast, each with varying (and sometimes minimal) degrees of screen time. Perhaps most front-and-center is John Wayne as Lt. Colonel Benjamin Vandervoot, who’s given several memorable grandstanding lines:
Other big-name actors playing real people include (but are not limited to) Peter Lawford as Brigadier Simon Fraser:
… Robert Mitchum as Brigadier Gen. Norman Cota:
… Robert Ryan as Brigadier Gen. James M. Gavin:
… and Curd Jürgens as Infantry General Günther Blumentritt.
Additional well-known actors inhabiting a diverse cross-section of fictional characters include (but once again aren’t limited to) Leo Genn and Mel Ferrer:
… Richard Burton:
… Sal Mineo:
… Sean Connery:
… Eddie Albert:
… Jeffrey Hunter:
… Gert Fröbe:
… Peter van Eyck:
… George Segal, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Richard Beymer, Jean Servais, Jean-Louis Barrault, and Roddy MacDowall (who came over to participate due to being bored on the set of Cleopatra).
Whew! While I’ll admit I quickly got battle-weary watching this epic war flick, it’s easy to see how appealing it would be to those with authentic interest in such matters. Favorite light-hearted moment: a group of nuns walk in and kick ass as field nurses during the heat of battle.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments: