If you're up to doing math this early in the morning, you'll realize that means that today, June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion :-o
No prizes guessing why I'm reviewing this movie today, then, eh?
This movie isn't particularly well-known these days, though I'm not sure why. Maybe people read the title and think it's a documentary? Or because, while Robert Taylor and Richard Todd were very famous in the '50s, they're not as widely known today? Or because people expect it to be a military-focused movie instead of a drama, and they end up not liking it because it's not what they expected? I don't know. I think it's silly, though, because this is a wonderful drama centered around three people caught up in the preparations for the invasion.
Well, the filmmakers certainly aren't being coy about what this movie's going to entail, does it? Tells you right from the start that lots of people are going to die. Cheery.
The story begins aboard a ship filled with Special Forces men being sent ahead of the main invasion fleet. We zoom in on one British officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Wynter (Richard Todd), the heart and soul of this film.
We then zoom in on an American officer, Captain Brad Parker (Robert Taylor). I'm going to pause right here and say that I've always thought that, in this movie, Robert Taylor looks a TON like Rick Jason in season one of Combat!. In my headcanon, Brad is the older half-brother of Jason's character Lt. Hanley on that show. Just so you know.
Anyway, John briefs the officers about minefields on the beach that Allied sappers have partially cleared. We also learn that he's only been commander of this group for a few days, after "unfortunate circumstances" deprived them of their original commander. Ooooooh, that's mysterious!
I already love him, just from this one scene. How can anyone NOT love that sweet face, that kind voice? This is the movie that made me a Richard Todd fan :-) Yes, I saw it BEFORE I saw The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). YEARS before I saw The Hasty Heart (1949). I saw The Longest Day before it, and Todd has a small but significant role in that, but he was one of a cast of zillions and I didn't pay much attention to him in that until after I'd seen this.
Anyway, after the briefing, John and Brad end up leaning on the same rail, looking off over the sea. They made some polite conversation, and then John says, "It's odd meeting like this." Brad says, "She told you?" "Oh, yes," John answers. And that's it. They go back to talking about the weather and the invasion. John (who's been in many battles and even other invasions) kindly tells Brad (who hasn't) to get some sleep, and even smiles at him, while Brad looks like he's going to be sick. And I don't think it's because of the choppy Channel.
Is that a great set-up, or what? Six minutes in, and we've got simply acres of questions about these guys. Who is "she," and what did she tell John? If it was a bad thing, why is he smiling? (Short answer: because he's wonderful. Ahem.) And what were those mysterious circumstances that caused the previous commander to be gone?
I'm going to pause here for just a moment to mention that Richard Todd actually participated in the D-Day Invasion. He parachuted into Normandy as part of the Sixth Airborne. I'll talk more about that later.
Back to the movie. So, John goes off to talk to some other officers, then has a bit of interior monologue voice-over in which he muses on his experiences in North Africa and before, and which leads to a flashback.
Three years earlier, in 1942, John was in love with Valerie Russell (Dana Wynter). He'd just volunteered for a mission that would take him away from her, and she was quite annoyed about it when he told her so.
She doesn't stay annoyed for long, and they part with an Understanding, if not an official engagement.
Back to that ship headed for Normandy, and now it's Brad's turn to have a voice-over reminiscence all about when he first arrived in London, leaving behind a pretty wife in the states.
Who should Brad meet in London but Valerie Russell. They meet at her house when he calls on her father (John Williams), they meet on a train, they go out for dinner...
One thing leads to another, as tends to happen, and the best thing I can say about these two is that they didn't intend to fall in love with each other, at least.
But the next thing you know, they're kissing in the half-dark.
Meanwhile, preparations are ramping up for the invasion, and we have bits of that intruding on the plot, mainly in the form of Brad's superior officer, Lt. Col. Alexander Timmer (Edmond O'Brien).
Timmer is loud and sorta obnoxious, and he runs his mouth off, especially to newspapermen, which he isn't supposed to do. And which he gets in trouble for. But, because he's played by Edmond O'Brien, you can't help but like the guy anyway.
More canoodling occurs.
The canoodling leads to kissing in the rain. I want to slap both of them. Honestly, I would probably hate this movie if John wasn't so wonderful in and of himself. These two certainly aren't worth the price of admission.
But the story keeps following them anyway, as they get separated by the war, then reunite. Brad says that his wife knows he's having an affair, though he hasn't told her. Valerie says John doesn't know because all they had together was trust, not really love. Well golly gee whiz, lady -- guess you didn't really have trust either, with you gallivanting around with this American dude!
And then, just when I'm getting thoroughly sick of these two and wishing John would return, he does, and the movie gets good again. You see, he's been wounded, and he's back, and now the two characters I don't like in this movie are going to have to face up to their bad behavior and figure out how to live their lives when confronted with the one character I do like. It makes for very rich character-based drama, which I adore.
Wynter inadvertently learns Valerie has a boyfriend and is at a party with him, and my goodness, doesn't he look like he needs a hug and a friend? I will hug you and be your friend, John!!!
To her credit, when Valerie learns John is back, she rushes off to be with him, leaving Brad cold, saying it doesn't matter what's happened while John was away, but that he needs her now. She doesn't know that John knows she's found someone else.
Valerie and Brad meet up again, though, and she informs him that she's going to stick with John. Really, I should like Valerie better than I do. She wasn't actually engaged to John, and when he returns, she gives up Brad for him. It's Brad I should mostly want to slap (and I do), since he's a married man and shouldn't have enticed Valerie into a relationship in the first place. She encourages Brad to return to his wife, and he argues about it. But I can never quite like her either, though I'm not sure why.
Remember Lt. Col. Timmer, Brad's commander that can't keep his mouth shut? He gets too loud too often and is removed from command. Guess who replaces him?
John knows the name of the man Valerie had been seeing. He knows this must be the guy. How would you behave when you suddenly meet the man who has been carrying on with the girl you love? The girl who's been all that's gotten you through a couple of very tough years of war? The girl who has given up this man for your sake?
I'll tell you what Lt. Col. John Wynter does. He shakes his hand. He moves on with his life. MAN, I love this guy. No drama, no fuss, no public calling out of the guy, no punch in the nose, just a handshake and then off we go.
After an hour and a half of backstory, we finally get back to the landing at Normandy. These advance Special Forces sneak onto the beach and start dismantling the Nazi defenses.
The cinematography up to this point hasn't been anything special, but there are some really nice shots during this sequence that I'll share here.
After the initial battle, things quiet down.
John and Brad were both wounded, though John's wound is not too bad. Brad has to get carried away on a stretcher, and the medics say he'll be going home.
John finds him. He congratulates Brad on his good work, asks how he's feeling, and chats pleasantly with him. They wish each other good luck, and Brad gets loaded on a medical transport headed back to Britain.
John goes off for a walk along the beach.
He meets some American sappers who warn him they haven't finished clearing the beach of land mines yet, so be careful where you step. John thanks them, turns around, and walks slowly away.
I've spoiled this whole movie already, so I'm going to go ahead and spoil the very end too.
I always wonder if John walked the direction he did on purpose, if he'd had enough of war and kind of hoped his feet might find what they do. The movie really leaves that conclusion up to you. It might also be a tragic accident, and I tend to prefer that, but the other way works too.
But the movie doesn't end there. We see Valerie receive the news about John from one of his friends.
Then she gets a phone call telling her where Brad is.
She goes to Brad, and here's where the movie totally surprises me. (I'm so spoiling the ending here too. Just... skip to below "the end" if you don't want the final spoiler.) I expected that now Brad would divorce his wife, and he and Valerie will be together, and it will be a sappy ending about love triumphing over fate or whatever. But they do NOT go that way!
Brad tells Valerie that he talked to John on the beach, that John's fine, and that he thinks John is a really wonderful guy. (DUH.) Then he says that he hopes Valerie and John will have a wonderful life together. He's going to go home and stay with his wife and make things work.
And Valerie never tells him John died. She just nods and agrees that John's wonderful and agrees that Brad should go home, and she leaves.
She leaves and never looks back.
Oooooof, that just hits me where I live. Good girl, Valerie. You did the very hard, very right thing. Maybe you were deserving of John's love after all.
I love movies that surprise me, and I love characters that choose the right path even though it's harder, and I love Richard Todd, so yeah, not surprising I like this movie!
Now, I mentioned that Richard Todd actually participated in the D-DAY invasion. He did! In fact, he actually worked with Major John Howard, whom he portrayed in The Longest Day, which just... makes me tingly all over. Wow. So cool. If you'd like, you can read about Todd's military career here, including his first-hand account of his participation in D-DAY.
This has been my contribution to the D-Day Blogathon hosted this week by myself and Eva of Coffee, Classics, and Craziness. Visit either this post on my blog or this post on Eva's to see the lists of participants, complete with links to their posts.
I hope you take some time today to remember all the sacrifices made by your country's armed forces, especially on this day, seventy-five years ago.