TailSlate looks at D-Day movies

June 6, 1944. What is now commonly referred to as “D-Day.” The WWII Allies launch Operation Overlord. Over 150,000 Allied troops were involved in “Operation Overlord.”

As is the case with most major historical events, we’ve seen D-Day as the main plot or an important event in a number of major motion pictures. With the 75th anniversary of D-Day coming later this week, TailSlate suggests some of those films. In no particular order.

David Brian in 1950s Breakthrough

Breakthrough is not a great film. That being said, the nearly 30% of the film that was assembled from actual footage makes it worth a look.

Rangers Lead the Way” – Francis W. Dawson, Captain, 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry on D-Day

Saving Private Ryan won 5 Academy Awards including Best Director for Steven Spielberg and Best Cinematography for Janusz Kaminski. Tom Hanks portrays “Captain John Miller”, of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. After the D-Day landing is complete, he is assigned the mission of locating “Private James Ryan” (Matt Damon). Private Ryan’s three brothers have been killed in action. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall (Harve Presnell) wants the surviving brother found and brought home safely to his mother. The Ryan family is loosely based on the story of the four Niland brothers.

The 20 minute D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan may be the best movie depiction of what happened on June 6, 1944.


Sean Connery in The Longest Day

In 1962 an epic depiction of D-Day titled The Longest Day was released. It showed the events of the Normandy Landing from both the Allied and the German point of view. If you include awards and nominations before and after its release, the cast included 6 recipients of Academy Awards for acting and 11 who received Academy Award nominations. John Wayne portrayed Lt Col Benjamin Vandervoort, who received the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry on D-Day. LTC Vandervoort would be awarded a second DSC later in 1944. LTC Vandervoort was displeased by the choice of John Wayne to portray him. Vandervoort was 27 years old on D-Day while Wayne was 54 years old when he portrayed Vandervoort in this film.

George C. Scott and Karl Malden in Patton

Patton tells the story of General George S. Patton’s activities during World War II. George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor of 1970 for his performance as the iconic, eccentric General Patton. That was just 1 of the 7 Academy Awards for this movie, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Some may argue that Patton doesn’t involve D-Day as General Patton was on the “bench” during Operation Overlord. But he played a critical role in the actual invasion by not being involved. Albert Jodl (Richard Muench) was the Chief of the Operations Staff of the German high command. He was convinced that Patton would lead the Allied Invasion. As a result, the Allies created a non-existent force under Patton’s command to convince the Germans that the Allied landing would take place at Calais rather than Normandy.

Mark Hamill, Bobby De Ciccio, Lee Marvin and Kelly Ward in The Big Red One

Samuel Fuller wrote and directed 1980’s The Big Red One. Starring Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby De Ciccio and Kelly Ward, it is a semi-autobiographical account of Fuller’s experiences during his military service in World War II. The title of the film refers to the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. Samuel Fuller was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

The movie is centered on “The Sergeant” (Lee Marvin). We never learn his name, but we see him killing a German soldier during World War I. Afterward he is informed that the hostilities had been ended by the signing of the Armistice before he took the German’s life.

Fast forward to 1942 and The Sergeant is leading a squad as the Allies invade North Africa. His squad contains a core of four soldiers who will be with him throughout the war. In this writer’s opinion, Mark Hamill does some of his best work ever onscreen in this movie.

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