10 Lesser Known D-Day Movies

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Today marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Overlord. This momentous event has unsurprisingly been the focus of a number of major war movies including The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) that have come to define the popular memory of D-Day. 

In addition to the most famous films about D-Day there are a number of lesser known ones which are no less interesting, in this article we’ll (chronologically – this time we’ll only be looking at the pre-2000 films) outline some of the D-Day films you may not have seen!

True Glory (1945)

First on our list is a documentary film co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information which tells the story of the Allies victory in Western Europe. Directed by Garson Kanin (American) and Carol Reed (British) the film’s tagine was: “The story of your victory…told by the guys who won it!” The film makes great use of Army Film and Photographic Unit and US Signal Corps footage and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Breakthrough (1950)

Breakthrough is another film which makes brilliant use of contemporary footage splicing it in around set pieces and more intimate character scenes filmed in Hollywood. It boldly seeks to tell the story of D-Day and the days after the initial landings. Directed by Lewis Seiler and starring John Agar it follows the platoon of the 1st Infantry Division. The beach combat scenes filmed in California have a decent scale to them helped by ample contemporary footage interspersed.

Red Ball Express (1952)

Another film which also looks at the post-landing phase of Overlord is Red Ball Express directed by Budd Boetticher. It examines the essential and overlooked logistical operation which kept the Allies supplied after the landings. Red Ball Express stars Jeffrey Chandler and a young Sidney Poitier portraying one of the many African-American soldiers involved in the operation.

D-Day: The Sixth of June (1956)

1956 saw the release of not one but two D-Day movies. D-Day: The Sixth of June, released in May 1956, was directed by Henry Koster and based on a novel published the year before by Lionel Shapiro. The film stars Robert Taylor, Richard Todd (who participated in the Normandy landings in real life and later starred in The Longest Day) and Dana Wynter. Primarily focused on a love triangle the film has some brief depictions of D-Day.

Screaming Eagles (1956)

Released the very same week as D-Day: The Sixth of June, the Screaming Eagles attempts to tell the story of US paratroops landing just ahead of the invasion. Directed by Charles F. Haasd the film takes a classic approach introducing the men of the platoon before going into the operation. Intriguingly, the film had both American and a German technical advisors.

Up From The Beach (1965)

Set immediately after the landings as the Allies fight to gain a foothold in Normandy, Up From the Beach follows an American squad pushing in-land from the beachhead. Directed by Robert Parrish and starring Cliff Robertson, Irina Demick and Red Buttons (both of whom appeared in The Longest Day a few years earlier) as well as Slim Pickens and James Robertson Justice.

Hell in Normandy (1968)

In 1968, at the height of the Euro-War film craze, Italian director Alfonso Brescia produced an international effort which stars Guy Madison, Peter Lee Lawrence and Erika Blanc. A classic men on a mission film which sees a special parachute unit sent to destroy a German installation which will flood the invasion beaches with burning oil!

Battle of the Commandos (1969)

Another Euro War/Macaroni Combat D-Day entry is 1969’s Battle of the Commandos which has clear Dirty Dozen influences, as hinted at by it’s alternative name Legion of the Damned! With a strong cast including Jack Palace, Thomas Hunter and Curd Jurgen, a team of commandos attack a German railway gun that threatens the landings. Classic men on a mission fayre.

Overlord (1975)

A black-and-white post-modern British war film written and directed by Stuart Cooper which deals with the tense build up to D-Day depicting it through the eyes of one soldier played by Brian Stirner. Cinematography was provided by Oscar-winning cinematographer John Alcott, best known as a frequent collaborator with Stanley Kubrik. The film shows little of D-Day but captures what some of the build up must have felt like to the men preparing for Overlord.

Big Red One (1980)

Finally, we have Sam Fuller’s magnum opus, The Big Red One, his ode to the 1st Infantry Division told through the eyes of a platoon of soldiers led by grizzled veteran seargent played by Lee Marvin. Fuller, a veteran of the Big Red One himself, had long sought to make the film first trying in the 1950s and again after he directed Merrill’s Marauders. The film follows the men through North Africa, Sicily and then into France and on into northwest Europe culminating in the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp. A fascinating and ambitious film.

Don’t forget to listen to our latest episode examining the 1962 seminal D-Day movie ‘The Longest Day’ featuring our good friend and historian Paul Woodadge of WW2TV!

Matthew Moss

Matthew Moss

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