“Move ‘em out!”: John Wayne, one of the few real box office stars who starred in 1961’s star-studded war epic The Longest Day, a movie I’ve always taken for granted starred more real stars than it actually starred.
Last spring, when the cast of The Big Short was being announced one star at a time---Brad Pitt. Ryan Gosling. Steve Carell. Christian Bale.--- I joked to my students that it was on its way to becoming this generation’s The Longest Day.
I don’t think any of them got the joke.
But I was wondering if like The Longest Day the movie was going to feature just about every bankable male star who could be drawn in for a day’s shoot to do a one or two minute cameo. Who’s next, I asked nobody but myself, George Clooney? Bradley Cooper? Denzel?
When Melissa Leo joined the cast I began to look forward to the addition of a dozen great leading ladies and character actresses.
Things stopped well short of that and the actually more apt 1960s movie parallel turned out to be Ocean’s 11---(My students would have gotten that joke, although they’d have assumed I meant Ocean’s Eleven.)---a parallel I’d be happy to elaborate on just for fun, if it hasn’t been a thousand years since I last saw Ocean’s 11 and didn’t take The Big Short so seriously.
Now, come to think of it, a more apt parallel to a movie from that era---1958 was when it was released. The Longest Day came out in 1962.---not in tone or style or theme but in taking on a serious subject and starring an ensemble of four male stars at the height of their appeal: The Young Lions with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, and Maximilian Schell.
Might be a post in that.
But just thinking about The Longest Day as a marvel of casting, I’ve been more impressed by who’s not in it than by who is.
In fact, when I started listing who’s not in it in my head---starting with Marlon Brando and Paul Newman---and comparing it to the list of who is---Eddie Albert, Red Buttons---The Longest Day began to diminish in my appreciation, reminding me more and more of 1970s disaster film or TV movie, a cast of past their primes, second-tier and third-tier stars, has beens, and not quite ever was-es and second-tier and third tier stars being marketed as if they were recent Oscar winners one and all.
The Longest Day actually features only two of the biggest male box office stars of the early 1960s, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, and almost none of the best actors in their primes or young actors on the brink of fame. Like I said, Brando’s not in it and neither is Newman. Also Missing in Action: Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Richard Widmark, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster---either Douglas or Lancaster would have been great as George Patton. Patton was sidelined on D-Day; he was being used to decoy the Germans into thinking he’d be leading the invasion of France from the Mediterranean, but a great scene could have been made of his frustration at that. Trivia: Lancaster was the first choice to star in Patton, which reminds me that George C. Scott isn’t in The Longest Day either. Among the about to break out: You wouldn’t expect Robert Redford who was only just becoming a star on Broadway or Clint Eastwood who was “just” a TV actor. George Segal’s on hand in a not quite blink and you’ll miss him character part. But these guys aren’t to be found: Steve McQueen, James Garner, George Peppard, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Ben Gazzara, and Warren Beatty.
I’m not sure how to categorize Karl Malden, Lee Marvin, or Anthony Quinn at the time---all three went back and forth between second male leads, character parts, and heavies---but they were big names and they aren’t in it.
As for the Golden Age greats still on the scene: No Spencer Tracy. No James Cagney. No Cary Grant! Henry Fonda’s in it but not Jimmy Stewart who’d have been perfect as George Marshall or William Bradley.
That’s just the Americans. (I count Cary Grant as an American.) I can’t begin to discuss the Brits and other Europeans except to point out how much fun it is to see pre-James Bond Sean Connery in a part that’s basically comic relief.
At any rate, it’s not just that the actors who aren’t in The Longest Day are impressive individually and collectively. The length of the list is astounding. How was there enough work for all these guys? How many movies were being turned out a year back then that there were roles for all these leading men?
Thinking about it some more, I began to wonder what a list of all the female stars and soon to be stars from the time would like. I’m not going to start listing them here. (If you’re making a list yourself, you started with Elizabeth Taylor, right?) But a quick review in my head makes me suspect this list would be considerably shorter than the list I just made of male stars.
I’ve deliberately left someone off the list of stars who weren’t in The Longest Day, someone who had been nominated recently for an Oscar, who was at work on the movie for which he would win an Oscar, who was already a big box office draw and on the brink of becoming one of the biggest stars of the decade.
That’s the next post.