Yesterday I took in parts of the conclusion of The Longest Day, Darryl F Zanuck's not unimpressive docudrama about D Day. The more exciting sequences were directed by Ken Annakin, best known for his Bond movies. It shows war as a game- which of course it is. Robert Mitchum smokes cigars on the beaches, John Wayne (about 20 years too old for the role) is grim and laconic and- having broken his leg- gets wheeled around the battlefield on a handcart. Curt Jurgens, as a good Nazi, quotes Verlaine in the original German to his peppery little superior officer- who fails to understand what he's banging on about.
Les Sanglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell, going stir-crazy on the somnolent set of Cleopatra- flew up to Normandy and begged Zanuck to give them something to do- anything- and they'd waive the fee. As it happens Burton got what was probably the best scene in the movie- the one at the end that sums up the overall absurdity of the foregoing three hours- playing a bailed-out RAF pilot- with his thigh split "from crotch to knee" and held together with safety pins- who talks philosophy to a jumpy young GI who has spent the day walking towards the sound of gunfire only to find by the time he arrived that the shooters had moved on. "He's dead," he says, gesturing towards a German he shot earlier, "I'm crippled and you're lost. Isn't that how it always goes..."
There's an all star cast. The craggy older chaps stand out. Wayne, Mitchum, Richard Todd, a few others. Had I been around at the beginning I'd have caught Jean-Louis Barrault, Madeleine Renaud and Bourvil (and I wish I had) but a lot of the younger guys were happening young actors who stopped happening when the 60s got going and have since faded back into something like anonymity. Cannon-fodder, mulch.
After The Longest Day we switched channels and watched bits of the BBC's self-congratulatory rehash of Michael Palin's travel shows- which are well on the way to being period pieces now. His trip from Pole to Pole passed through the Baltic states which were then still part of the USSR- and he recommends himself to the locals by repeatedly referring to them as "Russia". He is charming, bonhomous, superficial. He deplores the ugliness of the US base at the South Pole- with its cheeseburgers and soft rock- then allows himself to be filmed taking a crap on an open air toilet. Antarctica, he tells us, is slippery. Everywhere he goes he finds friendliness- in tribute, I suppose, to his own good nature. Personally, I'd have favoured a little more poetry, a little more wonder. "What do you expect me to learn," he asks the abbot of a Zen monastery where he's spending the night. "That's entirely your own business," replies the abbot.
In the real world as it is now, here in Kent on October 18, 2020, the violins of autumn continue to sob.