Category Archives: World War II




The BFI has released a three-disk Blu-ray set of Robert Rossellini’s celebrated ‘War Trilogy’. The three films, Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) are among the jewels in neorealism’s crown. Set in Italy during the German Occupation and its aftermath, the first two films depict Italy wartorn and almost on the brink of capitulation, while the third looks at a post-war Germany shattered by the conflict. Rossellini had made three fascist propaganda films during the war: The White Navy (1941 – detailing hospital ships), A Pilot Returns (1942 – the air force) and Man of the Cross (1943 – the Eastern Front). But in the immediate post-war period his War Trilogy told a very different story of the war, often from a civilian perspective. The Allies invaded Italy, first in Sicily in July 1943 and later the mainland in September of that year. As the liberators fought their way northward, the Germans exacted terrible revenge on their one-time allies.


ROME OPEN CITY Set in the winter of 1943-44, Rome, Open City depicts the hunt for Giorgio Manfredi (Marcell Pagliero), a resistance leader in Rome. Another member of the resistance, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), is due to marry widow Pina (Anna Magnani), but on their wedding day the Gestapo and Italian fascists raid their apartment block. Later SS Major Bergmann (Harry Feist) captures Manfredi and also orders the execution of a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), who has aided the resistance. Rome, Open City is a powerful film about the German occupation, made on location and with a strong sense of authenticity. The ‘Open City’ epithet is a reference to Rome being declared an ‘open city’ on 14 August 1943, meaning that the defenders had abandoned all efforts to protect the city. This tactic was intended to safeguard the civilian population and the historical landmarks from street fighting and aerial bombing (Paris had made the same declaration in 1940, as did Brussels and Oslo). Rome, Open City headlines Anna Magnani’s star-making role and established Rossellini on the international stage as a leading light of the neorealist movement. Mangani’s death scene, outside her house in Via Raimondo Montecuccoli in Rome, is among the most famous moments in international cinema. The BFI’s release is a newly-remastered presentation of the film. Also included on the disk is Children of Open City (2005, 51 mins) a documentary about the making of the film with Vito Annicchiarico (who played Pina’s son in the film), and an illustrated booklet by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough.


PAISÀ My personal favourite of the trilogy, Paisa is perhaps Rossellini’s greatest film. Here the grit and sorrow of neorealism combines with newsreel combat footage to moving effect. The six-episode film is set during the Allied campaign to liberate Italy. It begins in Sicily in 1943 and concludes in the Po Delta in the winter of 1944. In the first episode, Carmela (Carmela Sazio), a young Sicilian woman, acts as a guide to a GI patrol on a nighttime patrol. When GI Joe (Robert Van Loon) attempts to show her a photo of his sister, he strikes a light and a German sniper kills him. Later the GI’s think Carmela is responsible for Joe’s death. Episode two is set in Naples. Orphaned street urchin Pasquale (Alfonso Pasca) steals the boots off drunken American military policeman Joe (Dots Johnson). Later the MP meets Pasquale again and when he sees Pasquale’s squalid living conditions and those of other Neapolitan civilians, he realises why the orphan needs to steal boots. In Rome following the Anzio landings, Sherman tank crewman Fred (Gar Moore) hitches up with a prostitute. He drunkenly remembers that six months ago, on his first arrival in Rome, he met a wonderful Roman girl called Francesca. He is too drunk to realise that the woman he is with is Francesca, who has been compelled to become a ‘working girl’ to avoid starvation. The film continues with an episode set during the German retreat north through Tuscan. In Florence, British nurse Harriet (Harriet White) and Massimo (Enzo Tarascio) attempt to cross the River Arno: she to contact her lover, Guido Lombardi who is now heroic partisan leader Lupo (Wolf), he to see his wife and child whose house is caught up in the fighting. Traversing rooftops and rubble, and avoiding fascist snipers and patrols, they make contact with partisans in the German occupied zone. In the next story, at the Gothic Line three US chaplains – Captain Bill Martin (William Tubbs), Captain Feldman (Elmer Feldman) and Captain Jones (Newell Jones) – seek shelter in a Franciscan monastery in the Apennines. The chaplains give the monks Hershey bars and their supplies of tinned food, but the monks’ attitudes change when they discover that two of the chaplains are not of the ‘true faith’, but are Jewish and Protestant. In the final episode, anti-fascist partisans and American OSS operatives fight the Germans in the Po Delta, south of Venice. This episode is the most actionful and climaxes with a battle between the partisans and German gunboats on the delta. Paisà depicts the stark reality of war and its wider impact on society in a way that makes Hollywood and British war films of the period look inauthentic in comparison. The BFI’s presentation of Paisà includes Into the Future (2009), a 30-minute visual essay on the War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an illustrated booklet written by Gallagher.


GERMANY YEAR ZERO Set and filmed in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat, Germany Year Zero (1948) follows a German family, the Köhlers. The father (Ernst Pittschau), a widower, is infirm: the victim of a weak heart and poor diet. His daughter Eva (Ingetraud Hinze) works at night as a prostitute and his eldest son Karl-Heinz, an ex-soldier, is in hiding and fears being carted off to a prison camp. The film’s principal protagonists, the Köhlers’ youngest son Edmund (Edmund Meschke), falls in with gangs of petty thieves and street kid urchins, and hawks wares on the street for his old schoolteacher, Mr Henning (Erich Gühne). Rossellini’s documentary-like style and good performances ensure the degradation of post-war life in ruined Berlin is palpable. Piles of real Berlin masonry, as photographed by Robert Juillard, are the haunting backdrop to the story. The BFI edition is a restored print and includes a booklet with writing on Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough. The disk also features Rossellini’s 1948 film, L’amore: Due storie d’amore, a two-part film starring Anna Magnani, which runs 77 minutes. The first part, A Human Voice, is a screen adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix humaine while the second, The Miracle, was based on a story by Federico Fellini, who was also the film’s assistant director and appears in the film as a shepherd. The three films are available on Blu-ray as a limited edition numbered boxed set or as individual DVDs. The extras are comprehensive and enlightening. These are superb presentations of three key Italian films and as a set are essential purchases for anyone interested in post-war world cinema.

Blu-ray product details: RRP: £49.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1193 Certificate 12 Variously in Italian, German and English language, with optional English subtitles/ 301 mins / BD50 x3 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit) / Region B/2 All three films are in 1.33:1 screen ratio Individual DVD releases RRP £19.99 Region 2




In the last six issues of film magazine CINEMA RETRO, I’ve been writing a series titled MISSION ACCOMPLISHED about Oakmont Films’ series of World War II B-movies from the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Previous features have looked at ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST, MOSQUITO SQUADRON, SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and THE LAST ESCAPE.

Hell boats_DVD

The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO, #30, looks at the last film in the series, 1970’s action-packed HELL BOATS, which was set (and filmed) in the Mediterranean. HELL BOATS is mainly set on Malta, which was an Allied stronghold and the island was fiercely fought over during World War II. In recognition of the resolute Maltese defence, King George VI awarded the island the George Cross for bravery in 1942. HELL BOATS depicts the sea war and commando action on Malta and Sicily, and pitted German E-boats against the Allies’ speedy Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs). Set in 1942, HELL BOATS has Lt Commander Tom Jeffords transferred to Valletta on Malta. There he’s assigned to plan an attack on a well-fortified former Italian submarine base at Augusta on Sicily. Augusta’s submarine pens are now being used by the Germans to store radio-controlled glider bombs. Jeffords must get his men and his MTBs in close enough to destroy the weapons dump – he decides on stealing an E-boat and entering the harbour disguised as Germans. Matters are further complicated when Jeffords begins an affair Alison Ashurst, the wife of Jeffords’ commanding officer.

German E-boat

HELL BOATS was directed by Paul Wendkos, who had also worked in the same capacity on Oakmont’s ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST. The film stars James Franciscus as Tom Jeffords, Elizabeth Shepherd as Alison and Ronald Allen as Jeffords’ love rival and superior officer Roger Ashurst. The actors’ performances are good, with this central trio enacting the love triangle romance of two officers in love with the same woman, the clichéd feature of so many World War II movies. You can’t beat a good location and artful cinematography to give a film a lift and HELL BOATS has both. This Oakmont production was filmed in its entirety in Malta, including Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbour (see below).

Fort Manoel

Other Maltese locations, including ruins, a harbour, a railway bridge and a village were used for a Sicilian cove, the fishermen’s village and the submarine base at Augusta. The scene where Jeffords first meets Alison was filmed on the Delimara Peninsula, on the southern tip of Malta. The Mediterranean magnificence as a backdrop to Tom and Alison’s dalliance is perfect and the romantic scenes are well played, on beaches or overlooking the harbour, in appealingly photogenic Maltese tourist board tableau. If the Oakmonts are of their time, with the glossy aesthetics of late-1960s cinema sometimes at odds with the serious, occasionally tragic, subject matter, they survive today as entertaining B-movies.

The titles of the six-part CINEMA RETRO series and their issue numbers are:

Back issues can be ordered here from eBay:

By coincidence, UK DVD company 101 Films is releasing SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST on DVD as part of ‘The War Collection’, which also includes PLAY DIRTY and the rarity HORNETS’ NEST.
SUBMARINE X-1 is out on Monday 8 September 2014, with more to follow in October and November. The DVDs are Region 2.



On this, the 70th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, the D-Day Landings in Normandy, June 1944, here’s part of the chapter from my book WHEN EAGLES DARED discussing the events of that June night and the following day, and how it has been depicted on film.

longest day helmet


ALL TEXT © Howard Hughes 2011/2014

In the spring of 1944 the Allies kept the Germans guessing as to where further landings in mainland Europe would occur. The Russians were eager for the Allies to open up a second front to divide Hitler’s forces and resources. The film I Was Monty’s Double (1958 – Heaven, Hell and Hoboken) told one of the most extraordinary war stories. To convince the Germans that the invasion would come from North Africa, General Montgomery made a tour of Gibraltar and North Africa in preparation for the attack. But the real Montgomery was planning Operation Overlord in England. The ‘Monty’ doing the rounds in Africa was in fact actor M. E. Clifton James, a lieutenant in the Pay Corps, whose remarkable resemblance to Montgomery earned him a unique place in history. James was appearing in theatre revue Khaki Kapers when he was convinced by British Intelligence to impersonate Montgomery. John Mills and Cecil Parker play the intelligence officers who engineer the ruse. German agents swallow the bait and begin to spread misinformation regarding Montgomery’s whereabouts, which leads to assassination attempts and a kidnapping involving a U-boat. The film was based on James’ 1954 book of the same name. For actor James it was the role of his life, in more ways than one. In the film James played himself and also portrayed Montgomery, in cleverly edited scenes which are spliced with stock footage of the real Monty. The film ends with James watching newsreels of the D-Day landings, having succeeded in diverting 60,000 German troops and a Panzer division into protecting a non-existent invasion attempt from North Africa.

Hitler also retained 12 Divisions in Norway as a result of the Allies creating a fictitious British Army who were stationed in Scotland and were preparing to invade. The Germans also suspected the invasion would land in the south of France, Yugoslavia or even Greece, but the real target was always to be France’s Atlantic coast. Preparations were afoot in England for Operation Overlord, the most important, complicated and decisive strategy of the war. The obvious invasion route from England was to the Pas-De-Calais. The shortest route was between Dover in Kent to Calais in Nord-Pas-De-Calais, France (the route the Channel Tunnel now uses). The Germans were kept guessing by subterfuge (as fake plans fell into the Germans’ hands), while the French Resistance worked tirelessly to keep the occupying forces on their toes and Allied bombers destroyed vital bridges. Hitler’s Atlantic Wall sea defences were at their strongest in the Pas-De-Calais area, with concrete and steel bunkers housing formidable guns, machine gun nests, webs of lethal barbed wire and minefields. There were also anti-tank and anti-landing craft defences: tetrahedral spikes that would disembowel landing craft and concrete ‘Dragon’s Teeth’, making routes from the beach impassable. But large portions of this Atlantic Wall were poorly defended and some emplacements were dummies to confuse the Allies. The area of Normandy was equidistant from England’s south coast ports – from Falmouth in the west to Newhaven in the east, which would be important in supplying Allied forces in the subsequent battle for France. Thus the coastline between Cherbourg (on the Cotentin Peninsula) and Le Havre became the most famous beaches in history.


Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) oversaw the operation, with Montgomery in command of the ground troops. Operation Overlord was eventually set for midnight of the 5-6 June 1944, where a break in June storms would enable the 5000-strong armada (including 600 warships) to travel safely across the Channel. The plan fell into two phases. The airborne assault was to secure important objectives inland. The amphibious assault would land ground troops and their equipment (including armour) on the coast. Infantry were ferried across the Channel on transporter ships and then loaded into landing craft as they neared the beaches. 176,000 troops travelled with the armada to land on five beaches – codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah – in the Bay of Seine, roughly between the mouths of the Rivers Orne and Vire. On the left flank, British and French forces of the British 1st Corps landed at Sword, near Ouistreham. Canadian forces of the 1st Corps landed at Juno beach and the British 30th Corps landed at Gold. To the west, the US 5th Corps landed at Omaha and on the far right flank, the US 7th Corps landed at Utah, although due to navigational difficulties they landed in the wrong place. The invasion’s exposed flanks were protected by airborne assaults. The British 6th Airborne Division secured vital bridges and disrupted communications on the left flank, while the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed on the right. Arriving at night, in gliders and by parachute, they completely surprised the defenders, though the 82nd Airborne suffered heavy losses when some of them overshot the drop zone and landed on the fortified garrison town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Following a bombardment of the beaches – which commenced at 5.30am – the invasion began landing troops onto the beaches at 6.30, with most assaults being highly successful. The naval barrages and concentrated air support weakened the German defences before the Allies landed. Only Omaha faltered, with sustained German fire pinning the US troops to the beach, though this was eventually overcome. By midnight of the ‘longest day’ five bridgeheads had been established.

When it comes to Operation Overlord in the cinema, there’s only one contender: The Longest Day (1962). As a fitting tribute to the greatest operation of the war, Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s labour of love resulted in the finest World War II combat film. Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book The Longest Day was dedicated ‘For all the men of D-Day’ and told the epic story with alacrity and drama, which made it a page-turning bestseller. Ryan worked on the screenplay, with additional material by Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall and Jack Seddon. The book and film told the story from several protagonists’ perspectives: French, German, British and American. To facilitate this narrative feat, with many speaking parts depicting real people, Zanuck assembled a stellar array of actors. He began casting in June 1961. This resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime ‘spot the film star’ cast, with some of the era’s biggest names. The film is not only interesting as a historical document of the events of D-Day, but also a snapshot of the film stars of the day. There is no title sequence – simply the title The Longest Day – and the cast are listed alphabetically at the end, to prevent egotistic billing arguments.

The film begins in Occupied France at the moment of its deliverance. Radio messages convey coded instructions to the French Resistance. When a line from a Verlaine poem is broadcast (‘The long sobs of the violins of autumn’), the Resistance know that when the next line is transmitted (‘Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor’) the invasion will begin within 24 hours. They disrupt the German lines of communication, destroying telephone cables and railway lines. In advance of the landings in Normandy, diversions convince the Germans that Cherbourg is under attack. ‘Rupert’ (a mechanical parachutist who explodes on impact with the earth) and many like him are dropped to confuse the enemy. In the dead of night, the Allies airborne assault begins – the pathfinders set up DZs and LZs (Drop Zones for paras and Landing Zones for gliders). British glider troops led by Major John Howard (Richard Todd) swoop on Pegasus Bridge on the Orne River, with instructions to ‘Hold until relieved’. Their gliders land close to the bridge and the objective is swiftly secured. This surprise attack, deftly edited and staged for maximum impact, is a contender for the finest action scene in war cinema. When elements of the 82nd Airborne miss their DZs, most end up in a flooded swamp area, but many plunge into Sainte-Mère-Église, a Nazi garrison HQ. They drift helplessly into the town square, lit up by a building which has been ignited by a flare. Paratrooper John Steel (played by Red Buttons) is suspended from the church bell tower by his chute and watches the grim bloodbath unfold as few of his comrades hit the ground alive. Later their commander Colonel Ben Vandervoort (John Wayne) and the relief column discover the massacre, with paratroopers’ corpses still limply hanging from telegraph poles and trees. Vandervoort’s grittily snapped ‘Get ‘em down’ is one of the Duke’s finest screen moments.

longest day wayne

The production boasted a long list of Military Consultants, many of whom are depicted in the film. Zanuck spent three months researching his subject. To ensure authenticity, he filmed his D-Day landings on the actual beaches and locations, with interiors lensed by Zanuck himself at Studios De Boulogne. 31 separate exterior locations in Normandy were used. In the 1968 documentary D-Day Revisited, photographed by Henri Decae and Walter Wottitz, and directed by Bernard Farrel, Zanuck returned to Normandy for the assault’s 25th anniversary and discussed the locations he’d used in the film, including the concrete bunker gun emplacement atop a 100-foot cliff at Pointe Du Hoc, which still stands as a monument. Other locations used in the film include the town of Saint-Mère-Église in Manche, the Orne crossing at Pegasus Bridge and the harbour fishing village of Ouistreham, Calvados, in Lower Normandy. The film was helmed by four directors (and uncredited Zanuck) but unlike Tora! Tora! Tora! you can’t see the joins. Shooting simultaneously to save time, Ken Annakin filmed the British exterior episodes, Andrew Marton and Gerd Oswald shot the US episodes and Bernhard Wicki shot the German sequences. Co-producer Elmo Williams co-ordinated the battle episodes and the use of archive footage was kept to a minimum. Principal photography began in August 1961 and by autumn they were shooting the beach landings. By then the assigned budget of $8 million from Twentieth Century-Fox had been eaten up and Zanuck was financing the project himself.

longest day beach

The film’s monochrome cinematography reinforces the film’s realism, while the widescreen 2.35:1 CinemaScope ratio adds to its epic scope. Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wattitz won Oscars for their cinematography. Best Special Effects Oscars also went to Robert MacDonald (visual) and Jacques Maumont (audible). Maurice Jarre composed the memorable score, which deploys rolling, relentless marching drums to create tension. The opening scene – a fade from inky blackness to a shot of a wave-lapped beach, with an upturned GI’s helmet lying in the sand (an image used for the film’s poster) – is accompanied by ominous timpani. The distinctive ‘dun-dun-dun-daarr!’ opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are heard – this is the ‘V’ for victory sign in Morse Code (dot, dot, dot, dash). Only at the film’s conclusion, with victory won, do we hear Jarre’s famous theme song. Composed by singer Paul Anka and arranged by Mitch Miller, this lively march tells of the longest day’s heroism (‘Many men will count the hours, as they live the longest day’). In the film it is sung rousingly by a chorus, though Anka also recorded a version of the song as a tie-in with the film.

The Longest Day boasts the most impressive cast list of all time. Advertising trumpeted ‘42 Stars’ on display. Even with the film’s 168-minute running time, few had time to shine for long and some appearances are literally to deliver one or two lines, or as a face in the crowd. John Wayne was top of the pile as Colonel Ben Vandervoort, who breaks his ankle on landing and is towed through the action on a wheeled ammo limber. Wayne received $250,000 for the role, while his co-stars received $25,000 each. Robert Mitchum was similarly prominent as Brigadier General Norman Cota of the US 29th Division on Omaha beach and Henry Fonda played arthritic General Theodore Roosevelt, the president’s son, who was the oldest member of the assault team. Zanuck took out what he termed ‘a little insurance’ in the canny casting of several young actors – many of whom were also singers – as US Rangers, infantrymen and paratroopers, to hook the teenage audience. The youngsters briefly on display during The Longest Day include Fabian, Paul Anka, Tommy Sands and Sal Mineo, but their names appeared prominently on posters and ensured the film drew a wide audience. There were many established American names in supporting roles. Robert Ryan played Brigadier General James Gavin, Rod Steiger was a destroyer commander off Normandy, Eddie Albert was Colonel Thompson on Omaha beach, Stuart Whitman played paratrooper Lieutenant Sheen, Edmund O’Brien was General Raymond ‘Tubby’ Barton, Mel Ferrer played Major General Robert Haines and Steve Forest was the 82nd Airborne’s Captain Harding. Other US soldiers were played by Mark Damon, Ray Danton and Roddy McDowell, while Richard Beymer (Tony in West Side Story) had a key role as paratrooper ‘Dutch’ Schultz, who manages not to fire his gun throughout the entire day and ponders at the film’s close: ‘I wonder who won?’

longest day todd

Richard Todd, Kenneth More, John Gregson and Richard Burton were familiar to audiences from 1950s British war films. Bearded More played Captain Colin Maude, the Royal Navy Beach Master, who orchestrates the landing on Sword with his bulldog Winston. John Gregson played the 6th Airborne’s padre, who is seen diving in a river for his lost Communion set. Burton played RAF pilot Flight Officer David Campbell, who is found slumped, badly wounded, in a farmyard – his leg is held together with safety pins. No one can deliver lines like ‘Ack-ack over Calais’ or ‘Split right open from the crotch to the knee’, like Burton, with his distinctive clipped Welsh tone. Peter Lawford played commando Lord Lovat of the Green Beret British Special Service Brigade, whose troops go ashore on Sword to the accompaniment of Scots piper Bill Millin. Richard Wattis played a paratrooper, Leo Genn was Brigadier General Edwin P. Parker, Michael Medwin played a Bren Gun driver stalled on the beach and Donald Houston played an RAF pilot. Canadian Alexander Knox was Major General Walter Bedell Smith. As bickering comic relief, Norman Rossington played cockney Private Clough and a soon-to-be James Bond Sean Connery played Irishman Private Flanagan on Sword. Leslie Phillips can be seen briefly as Mac, an RAF officer who is being sheltered by the Resistance – his character is a precursor of the British airman in the TV sitcom Allo! Allo!

As the film employed ‘Top talent of four countries’, the French and German contingent was considerable. Among the famed French players was Arletty as Mother Superior to a group of nuns (trained nurses who tend the French wounded); Jean-Louis Barrault was Father Louis Roulland; Jean Servais was naval Amiral Jaujard of the Forces Français Libres; and Bourvil was the excitable Mayor of Colleville. Christian Marquand played Commandant Philippe Kieffer of the Commando Français, with Georges Rivière his aide, Sergeant Guy De Montlaur. Irina Demick played Resistance fighter Janine Boitard and Italian Maurice Poli was her fiancé Gille. The German top brass included Major General Günther Blumentritt (Curd Jürgens), Colonel General Alfred Jodl (Wolfgang Lukschy), Major General Dr Hans Speidel (Wolfgang Büttner), Field General Gerd Von Rundstedt (Paul Hartmann), General Wolfgang Hager (Karl John) and General Erich Marcks (Richard Münch). Wolfgang Preiss played Major General Max Pemsel and Heinz Reincke played Luftwaffe colonel Josef ‘Pips’ Priller, whose depleted squadron consists of two planes. Future ‘Goldfinger’ Gert Fröbe played slobbish Sgt Kaffekanne, who delivers coffee to the coastal gunners on a horse that looks as lethargic as he is. Some world famous historical figures were also depicted: Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay (played by John Robinson), Montgomery (Trevor Reid), Rommel (Werber Hinz) and Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley (Nicholas Stuart), who surveys the invasion from his flagship, Augusta. Henry Grace played Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike was going to play himself, but makeup artists couldn’t achieve the transformation convincingly.

Once the longest day is underway, the film is a succession of memorable action vignettes. The first sight of the armada through the slit of a German coastal bunker as it materialises from the morning mist is accompanied by Beethoven’s Fifth shuddering on the soundtrack. From his bunker, Major Werner Pluskat (Hans Christain Blech) feels the full force of the Allied naval salvo and yells down the phone to Lt Col Ocker (Peter Van Eyck): ‘Those five thousand ships you say the Allies haven’t got – well, they’ve got them!’ For the action sequences, the French Army loaned the production 3000 men as extras and impressive ordnance gathered from around the world poured onto the beaches, including Sherman tanks, trucks, Bren Gun carriers, jeeps, M3 half-tracks and amphibious DUKWs. These were the so-called Army ‘Ducks’, which were GMC 6×6 trucks with boat-shaped hulls, making them resemble wheeled pontoon barges. For one scene, a real train was blown up to depict the Resistance’s activities. The action scenes are intercut with the German commanders’ attempts to counter the invasion and their incredulity at their own ineptitude: the invasion inconveniently coincides with the absence of many top officers on training exercises. When they request reinforcements, senior German field commanders are informed that the Führer has taken a sleeping pill and can’t be woken. Thus vital Panzer divisions remain in reserve, when their deployment may have turned the tide.

longest day mithcum

The film’s beach scenes resemble newsreels, as the camera dollies alongside the charging US troops on Omaha beach. A swooping attack by two Luftwaffe planes, which strafe Gold and Juno beaches, is filmed from the perspective of the pilots as they wreak havoc. An impressive helicopter shot (filmed by Ken Annakin on the eighth take, when all other directors had failed) captured the French Commandos from Sword rushing the waterfront of Ouistreham to take a heavily fortified hotel and casino – a brilliantly orchestrated scene which is a swirl of smoke, noise and movement. As they make their way at night through the silent countryside, US paratroopers use click-click ‘crickets’ as signalling devices. Sal Mineo is unfortunate when the two ‘clicks’ which answer his signal are a German soldier levering his bolt-action Mauser rifle. At Pointe Du Hoc, 225 specially trained US Rangers led by Robert Wagner (and including Fabian and George Segal) scale the cliffs under heavy enemy fire with grappling hooks and ladders to take the gun emplacement with 75% losses: in vain as it turns out the guns have never been installed. It is during this scene that a US Ranger mows down German soldiers and then wonders what ‘Bitte, bitte!’ means (it means ‘please’, as in ‘Please don’t shoot us, we’re surrendering’). Jeffrey Hunter had a pivotal role at the film’s climax as engineer Sergeant John H. Fuller, who bravely sets tubular Bangalore torpedoes and explosives to blow a breach in the German defences so the ‘Fighting 29th’ can scramble off Omaha beach. The film ends as troops pour inland to the bridgehead, with Robert Mitchum as Cota enjoying a celebratory cigar and hitching a ride on a jeep (‘OK, run me up the hill son’), as the whistled ‘Longest Day’ march swells.

longest day reissue

Always timely, The Longest Day was reissued in 1969, for Operation Overlord’s 25th anniversary

The Longest Day premiered in Paris (as Le Jour De Plus Long) on 25 September 1962, to great success. Edith Piaf sang from the Eiffel Tower for the premiere. The New York premiere followed a month later and the film was a hit with both critics and public. In Italy, The Longest Day won a David Di Donatello Award in 1963 for Best Foreign Film. The Longest Day trailer contains alternative takes of some scenes (for example, the dialogue between Beymer and Burton in the farmyard) and scenes cut from the final version (Mel Ferrer making an announcement to a press conference). In the most widely-seen English version, the actors of various nationalities speak their own languages, with English subtitles. There is also a version with everyone dubbed into English and another version is colourised. The Longest Day grossed $18 million in the US and in its first year took $25 million – according to Zanuck it was seen by more people than any other black and white film. It stands as a testament to the producer’s vision and determination in bringing this pivotal moment in history to the big screen.

is available now from booksellers and online in hardback and as an e-book.






I’ve not posted any articles or news up here for a while, mainly due to work, business and general busyness, as 2014 has turned into a rather hectic year. The new issue of ‘Cinema Retro’ (Issue #29) continues my ongoing series looking at Oakmont Productions’ World War II movies, with the rarity ‘The Last Escape’, starring Stuart Whitman and Pinkas Braun. The next issue will feature the sixth and final part of the series, with an in-depth look at my favourite of the ‘Oakmonts’, the Mediterranean-set ‘Hell Boats’, starring James Franciscus and Elizabeth Shepherd.

Issue #29 is on sale now via the usual outlets, including Ebay and Amazon, and also includes my reviews of the new Lee Van Cleef Blu-ray/DVD combos from Explosive Media, ‘Sabata’ and ‘Death Rides a Horse’.

There’s a full description and ordering details here

I’ve also been working on a project for Taschen, which will be published in the fall, and on ongoing projects including a new spaghetti western film guide. I travelled to Paris in February to see Ennio Morricone’s live concert in Bercy, the second night of his ‘My Life in Music’ tour (more of which in a future post, it was a great concert) and attended Sir Christopher Frayling’s presentation of the spaghetti western classic ‘For a Few Dollars More’ as part of the Bradford International Film Festival 2014 in April, which was superb to see on the big screen at Pictureville, with a large crowd in attendance.

Here’s Ennio Morricone conducting Jill’s theme from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ in the Palais Omnisports, Bercy, 4 February, 2014, with Susanna Rigacci (soprano) and the Budapest Modern Art Orchestra.

This month sees the publication of my new Filmgoers Guide, ‘Outer Limits’, the fifth in the series after ‘Crime Wave’, ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’, ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone’ and ‘When Eagles Dared’.




Outer Limits explores science-fiction cinema through 26 great films, from the silent classic Metropolis to today. It reviews the galaxy of stars and directors who have created some of the most popular films of all time, including George Lucas’s ‘Star Wars’ films, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Minority Report, James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ films and Ridley Scott’s milestones Alien and Blade Runner. It also discusses everything from A-listers 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes, to Japanese monster movies, 1950s B-movies, creature features and cult favourites, depicting time travel, distant planets or alien invasions. Films featured include The War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Tarantula, Godzilla, The Thing, Forbidden Planet, Barbarella, Galaxy Quest, Mad Max 2, Back to the Future, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Star Trek, Apollo 13, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix and many more.

As well as covering acknowledged science-fiction classics, Outer Limits takes diversions into B-movies, looking at everything from Fiend without a Face and IT! The Terror from beyond Space, to Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth and It Conquered the World. There’s colourful, vibrant sci-fi movies from Japan (Invasion of the Astro-Monsters, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People and Destroy All Monsters) and Italy (Planet of the Vampires and The Wild, Wild Planet), and the bleak, corrosive, monochrome British sci-fi of These Are the Damned and Quatermass 2. Other cult delights covered include I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Android, Trancers, Alien Contamination, Westworld, Goke – Bodysnatcher from Hell, The Creeping Terror, invasion of the Saucer Men, Teenagers from Outer Space, The Giant Claw and The Green Slime. Illustrated with original posters, Outer Limits is an informative, entertaining tour of the sci-fi universe.


For my Top Five underrated sci-fi films that may have passed under your radar, click here to read the I.B. Tauris blog:

‘Outer Limits: The Filmgoers Guide to the Great Science-Fiction Films’ published by I.B. Tauris is available from Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Guardian Bookshop and many other outlets. It is out now in the UK and is published on 24 June 2014 in the US.

It is available in-store across the UK at all branches of Waterstones.

‘Outer Limits’ is also available as an e-book.






The last part of my RomaDrome Top 20 Italian cult movies thread features 5 films from the tail-end of the Italian popular cinema boom. As in many cases with Italian genre movies, the genres are inspired by the popularity of a big international hit – the obvious inspirations for the following films include Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975), George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978), Walter Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ (1979) and John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ (1981).

tentacles‘Tentacles’ (‘Oliver Hellman’ aka Ovidio G. Assonitis, 1976)
This fishy offering gets such a slating from film critics, but it’s really an entertaining ride with an unusual and surprising big-name cast for a film about a giant octopus – this speaks volumes of how loud money can talk in the film industry. That’s Henry Fonda as Mr. Whitehead, the head of the Trojan Tunnel Company, which is responsible for using radio waves that irritate the octopus. All aboard for the seafaring adventure were Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins, Delia Boccardo and film director John Huston. These star names are almost upstaged by the octopus, by the colourful 2.35:1 cinematography and by Stelvio Cipriani’s score, parts of which had already been heard in Massimo Dallamano’s giallo thriller ‘What Have They Done to Your Daughters?’ (1974). The cue used in the regatta scene here reappeared in Quentin Taratino’s ‘Grindhouse’ offering ‘Death Proof’ (2007). Tentacles was presented by Samuel Z. Arkoff of AIP fame in the US, with the tagline ‘It’s turning the beach into a buffet’.

It’s available on a DVD double-bill with ‘Empire of the Ants’ starring Joan Collins.

‘The Inglorious Bastards’ (Enzo G. Castellari, 1977)
Another Tarantino influencer, this lively World War II movie is ‘The Dirty Dozen’ turned up to 11. Five in-transit US army convicts escape into the wartorn French countryside, circa 1944. They become embroiled in a partisan mission by the French Resistance to waylay a train carrying a V-2 rocket warhead prototype to steal its gyroscopic guidance system. The escapees are memorably played by Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson, Michael Perglani, Jackie Constantin and Bo Svenson, while the supporting cast includes Ian Bannen, Raimund Harmstorf and Debra Berger. The best scene sees hippy Perglani riding a motorbike like Steve McQueen and when a bullet punctures his gas tank, he seals the hole with chewing gum. Castellari – who has a cameo as the commander of a German mortar battery – shot the movie in Italy, including on the Capranica-Viterbo railroad also seen in the western ‘The Five Man Army’.

It’s out on DVD with various different covers


‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (Lucio Fulci, 1979)
Has there ever been a better example of ‘truth-in-advertising’ film titling than this? Fulci’s gore classic has zombies and once they are up and about, they eat flesh. Fulci’s film has a great putrid, exotic atmosphere in the vein of Bela Lugosi’s ‘White Zombie’. It’s mostly set on an island in the Caribbean Antilles and Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci’s score sets the scene menacingly. Variety Film producers Ugo Tucci and Fabrizio De Angelis approached Castellari to direct a sequel to George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, but he wasn’t interested, so Fulci took the gig. From the moment the mysterious sailboat drifts into New York harbour, the tension mounts. When the ‘earth spits out the dead’, an ancient graveyard unleashes its present tenants: the long-dead cadavers of Spanish Conquistadors. The zombies’ grotesque makeup was created by Giannetto De Rossi, who also worked on ‘Cleopatra’, ‘The Leopard’, ‘Once upon a Time in the West’ and ‘1900’.

Arrow Films has released this on Blu-Ray and DVD

‘Puma Man’ (Alberto De Martino, 1980)
De Martino’s ‘Puma Man’ (aka ‘The Pumaman’) is a notoriously bad-but-good superhero movie that has been ridiculed in a particularly entertaining episode of cult cable TV show ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’. Walter George Alton plays London-based American dinosaur expert Professor Tony Farms. He meets Aztec Vadinho (Miguelangel Fuentes, from ‘Fitzcarraldo’!)) who is ‘High Priest of the Temple of the God who Came from Other Worlds’. When he dons a magic belt, Tony becomes Puma Man, a hero with a host of cat-inspired special abilities. Sydne Rome played Tony’s love interest and Donald Pleasence (his name misspelt ‘Pleasance’ in the titles), Benito Stefanelli, Nello Pazzafini, Giovanni Cianfriglia and Guido Lollobrigida play the bad guys. Everyone except Pleasence pronounces the hero name as ‘Poo-ma Man’. There’s more than a whiff of the litter tray about this turkey, which has some of the worst ‘flying superhero’ footage you will ever see. Only recommended for those of you with a good sense of ‘hoo-ma’.

‘Puma Man’ isn’t out there on DVD at present, but versions (including the MSTK skit) show up on YouTube.


‘1990: The Bronx Warriors’ (Enzo G. Castellari, 1982)
By 1990, the Bronx has been declared a ‘no man’s land’ and is ruled by biker gang the Riders, led by Trash (Mark Gregory). Wealthy heiress Ann Fisher (Stefania Girolami, Castellari’s daughter), flees Manhattan and ends up with the Riders. As Ann is approaching her 18th birthday, she is about to inherit the Manhattan Corporation, a global arms manufacturer. Her father Samuel Fisher (Enio Girolami, Castellari’s brother) and Farley, the company’s vice-president (Castellari himself), dispatch rogue cop Hammer (Vic Morrow) into the Bronx to get her back. The quality cult cast includes Gianni Loffredo, George Eastman, Fred Williamson, Rocco Lerro, Massimo Vanni, Angelo Ragusa, Betty Dessy and Carla Brait. Equal parts ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘The Warriors’, this is the best of Castellari’s futuristic action movies that include ‘Escape from the Bronx’ (aka ‘Bronx Warriors 2’) and ‘The New Barbarians’ (‘Warriors of the Wasteland’).  Gregory and Morrow make worthy adversaries. The finale has Hammer leading New York’s Special Vigilante Force in Operation Burnt Earth – the cops attack in helicopters and vans, and mounted police in crash helmets use flamethrowers to flush out the gangs. Gregory also starred in an interesting Arizona-set reworking of ‘First Blood’ (1982) called ‘Thunder Warrior’, which was directed by Fabrizio De Angelis (the producer of ‘Bronx Warriors’).

UK videotapes were a shorter 79-minute version, but it’s now available uncut on DVD

That completes my Top 20 essential Italian cult movies:

The Trojan War, Maciste in Hell, Sons of Thunder, Blood and Black Lace, The Castle of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth, The Wild Wild Planet, Django, Special Mission Lady Chaplin, Django Kill!, Fellini Satyricon, They Call Me Trinity, Milan Calibre 9, Deep Red, Get Mean, Tentacles, The Inglorious Bastards, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Puma Man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors.

piranha 2


This Friday night (21/06/13) UK readers may be interested to know that MovieMix, on Freeview channel 32, is bravely screening James Cameron’s directorial debut, the magnificently daft ‘Piranha II – the Spawning’. Inspired by Joe Dante’s ‘Piranha’ (1978), this US-Italian co-production was shot on location in Jamaica and is also known as ‘Piranha 2: Flying Killers’. Specially-bred flying piranha fish – which are genetic experiments by the US Army destined for the rivers of Vietnam – escape and wreak havoc at the ‘Annual Fish Fry Beach Festival’. The film was produced by ‘Tentacles’ supremo Ovidio G. Assonitis and stars Tricia O’Neil, Steve Marachuck, Ted Richert, Carole Davis, Connie Lynn Hadden and Cameron regular Lance Henriksen. Giannetto De Rossi provided the gory special effects.

To read more about the varied wonders of Italian cinema, check out my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’, which is available now, in paperback and on Kindle.