Tuesday, June 22, 2021

D-Day the Sixth of June (1956)

Director: Henry Koster                                      Writers: Ivan Moffat and Harry Brown
Film Score: Lyn Murray                                     Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Starring: Robert Taylor, Dana Wynter, Richard Todd and John Williams

Though Robert Taylor was a big Hollywood star, I’ve never seen many of his films, and so he tends to be a fairly generic presence for me onscreen. As a result, when I first watched D-Day the Sixth of June, other than Edmond O’Brien and the great John Williams, Jerry Paris was the only actor I really recognized, and that was from another World War Two film from two years earlier, The Caine Mutiny. In some respects, however, the two films have a lot in common. Much of the first half of the films focus on a romance as much as on the war, and it’s not until the second half of the film that the real drama begins. Where Stanley Kramer’s film was a big-budget feature, however, that was done with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, this film feels like a B-picture that couldn’t really afford to recreate the war . . . so it didn’t try. The cast, on the other hand, is pretty solid. The Brits and Taylor acquit themselves well, but Edmond O’Brien is a little over the top and unbelievable at times. Dana Wynter is radiant onscreen and instantly recognizable from Invasion of the Body Snatchers from the year before. The only other familiar face for me is Dabbs Greer, who had a long career in Hollywood, primarily on television, but is probably best remembered by modern audiences as the old Tom Hanks in The Green Mile. He does a nice job as O’Brien’s driver.

The film begins onboard a ship taking an elite unit across the English Channel on D-Day. But before long two of the men have flashbacks about the previous two years. First is a short one, British soldier Richard Todd visiting his girlfriend, Dana Wynter, and her father John Williams, to say goodbye before he joins a special squad to help reinforce Tobruk in 1942. Then it’s the turn of American Robert Taylor as he meets Wynter shortly after and falls in love with her--despite the fact that he’s married. At first Wynter thinks she’s safe with a married man, but then she falls for him too and so has to ask him to stop seeing her. At the same time Taylor is working for a hardboiled colonel, Edmond O’Brien, and living with fellow officer Jerry Paris. It’s a long winded flashback that takes up the majority of the film and, while nominally interesting, it doesn’t really fulfill the expectations of the title in the same way as something like The Longest Day, which was made early in the next decade. It’s essentially a wartime soap opera, with Taylor cheating on his wife with Wynter, and Wynter cheating on Todd, and Taylor jealous of Todd because he’s out fighting the war while Taylor is stuck commanding a desk. Eventually Taylor’s office is disbanded and he’s sent to Algiers for a year. But the stars align when O’Brien is put in charge of a special force--one that Todd eventually commands--and not only does it get Taylor back to England and Wynter, it puts him in the fight as well, as the members of the squad are going to be the first ground troops in Normandy on D-Day.

It’s a fairly low-budget film, as it contains just the one battle scene, and lots of rear projection in the exterior shots. It was also filmed on the Fox back lot instead of England. Finally, with the romance taking up more than half of the film it’s only nominally a war picture, and those coming to the film with expectations of watching a fictionalized unfolding of Operation Overlord on June 6th 1944 are going to be severely disappointed, as D-Day itself seems almost beside the point. While the single battle scene is well done, the aftermath strains credulity. The assault was modeled on an actual American mission against Pointe du Hoc prior to the invasion landing. After the raid on one of the big German guns, the soldiers casually wait on the beach for the main invasion to arrive and yet no other Germans show up to wipe them out. It’s actually incredibly strange to watch. The screenplay was based on a novel by Canadian author Lionel Shapiro, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette who was attached to the Canadian troops for nearly the whole of their participation in the war. And while the novel was awarded the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction, it’s not really a war novel. Other than the single battle scene at the end, little else stands out as exceptional. D-Day the Sixth of June, while certainly nowhere near qualifying as a bad movie, is merely adequate throughout and on the whole can’t help being a little disappointing because of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment