Cook Library Cinema Club: D Day
Last week marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Normandy during WWII, which liberated France and helped turn the tide of the war against Germany. The human toll resulting from the largest sea-borne invasion in history was staggering, with casualties among Allied forces exceeding 10,000, and over 4,400 confirmed dead.
How better to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day than by showcasing both the book and movie versions of The Longest Day. Author Cornelius Ryan's bestselling, narrative account of the first day of the historic invasion of Normandy was published in 1959 to critical acclaim, and remains an authoritative work on the subject today. Producer Darryl F. Zannuck was determined to bring Ryan's work to the screen, and in 1962 he succeeded in creating what is still considered one of the best movies ever made about the historic battle. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, and Sean Connery are among the many stars of the classic film, which chronicles the events leading up to and following the invasion from both the Allied and German points of view. Both the book and the movie are available at the library.
Another epic film incorporating the extraordinary events of D-Day is Steven Spielberg's 1998 masterpiece Saving Private Ryan, which counts Tom Hanks and Matt Damon among its all-star cast. The film focuses on a team of Army Rangers sent on a mission by General George Marshall to locate Private First Class James Ryan, a paratrooper missing in action somewhere in Normandy, and send him home. Marshall has learned that Ryan is the only survivor among the four brothers of the Ryan family serving their country; the other three having been killed in action on the same day. The stunning opening scene of the film, which lasts almost a half-hour, captures the devastating effects of the invasion and its aftermath in gruesome detail, and remains one of the most graphic and realistic depictions of war ever filmed. The critically-acclaimed film was nominated for 11 Oscars; ultimately winning five of the awards, including a statue for director Spielberg.
Also notable, although with a totally different vibe, is the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily, a dark comedy with a truly biting screenplay by famed playwright Paddy Chayefsky. The film, based on a novel by William Bradford Huie, stars James Garner, Melvyn Douglas, James Coburn and, in a rare dramatic turn, Julie Andrews. Garner is outstanding in his role as dog-robber Charlie Madison, whose wartime duty it is to ensure that the Navy General he serves remains well-clothed, well-fed, and well-loved in spite of war-time shortages in Europe. A self-proclaimed coward determined to avoid combat, Madison nevertheless finds himself among the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day when his General hatches a plan to bolster the image of the Navy by filming the naval forces' efforts during the invasion, including the death of the first Navy man on the beaches of Normandy. Andrews plays a war widow who, tired of seeing the men she loves sacrificed to war, is initially attracted by Charlie's cowardice. Considered somewhat controversial at the time of its release for its anti-war theme, the film is now considered a cult classic.