Viewers who want an all out action war movie with guns blazing and corpse strewn landscapes should avoid D-Day the Sixth of June. Released in 1956, the film looks back somewhat nostalgically at a war that was already beginning to fade into history. The world depicted seems remote as few people today have actually experienced total war. Today War World II has taken its place in history as the necessary war, the unquestioned war, unlike most of what has happened since—Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The movie explores large issues on a small scale. It follows a small number of individuals and how their lives were impacted by the war during the months preceding the Normandy invasion. There is an elderly British Brigadier who has been left behind by modern warfare, a car salesman from Minneapolis who wants to be a general, a publisher’s son-in-law invalided into a desk job, a British career soldier and a young woman from a sheltered background doing her part in the conflict.
The movie covers a number of themes including British American relations in the last year of the war, the dislocation of normal morality in wartime, the war-weariness of the British population as they hold out for yet another year of suffering. Behind all of it is the war, huge, bloodthirsty and seemingly endless. Everything is impacted—steaks are horse meat, cigarettes are a rarity, nights are pitch black with all light forbidden, sirens blare day and night.
The protagonists are Captain Brad Parker (Robert Taylor), an American who broke his leg on a parachute jump and has been relegated to desk work, Major John Wynter, a heroic British commando (actual war hero Richard Todd) and Valerie Russell (Dana Wynter), the young woman who comes to love them both. Supporting characters include Major Timmons, a volatile car salesman (Edmund O’Brien) and Brigadier Russell (John Williams), Valerie’s father, who is filled with bitterness over the end of his career.
Parker is a married man from New England who has been away from his wife for over three years. Wynter and Valerie Russell are friends but not quite lovers. When Wynter is posted to Africa, Parker and Russell remain in London and become friends and then lovers. She is torn between her feelings of friendship and obligation towards Wynter and her exciting new American lover.
Eventually both Parker and Wynter take part in the Normandy invasion. The last fifteen minutes or so of the movie concern the battle itself which seems tame by modern standards. The lives of both men are changed forever by the events of June 6, 1944. There is no happy ending for most of the characters, no neat solutions to the complications of human life against the background of imminent death.
There are overtones of Waterloo Bridge (1940) in D-Day the Sixth of June. A romance between two very different people against the backdrop of war is central in both films. Robert Taylor is the male lead in both, wearing his signature trench coat each time. Neither has a happy ending. But there is an innocence to the earlier film that has been replaced by a kind of exhaustion in the latter. Most of the main characters spend their time living in a phoney world of hedonism. A character at one point speculates about what they’ll all be doing after the war. “Going back to our husbands and wives,” another replies.
D-Day the Sixth of June is well acted and has good production values. Henry Koster’s direction is crisp and tight. Robert Taylor and Dana Wynter are compatible and their clinches are convincing. Most of the time Taylor convinces us that he is younger than his actual years. He moves like a man more youthful than 45. Richard Todd is the good guy, loyal and self-sacrificing. Edmund O’Brien is outstanding as the volatile Col. Timmons. The supporting cast is first rate. D-Day the Sixth of June is a thoughtful film, looking back at a crucial part of what was then recent history. Even at a distance of almost 60 years, the human dilemmas portrayed here are relevant and timely.
More images from D-Day the Sixth of June
Hi Judith, this is a film I particularly remember fondly, not exactly from the date it opened (I wasn’t even born yet!) but from many years later, when I discovered it on VHS. I recall it was one of my first rented videos from the store (that was) across the street—early 90s. At first, I must confess I didn’t like the film. I suppose I was looking for an “action” WWII movie and based on the title, I expected it would be one of those, such as 1962’s “The Longest Day” for instance. But over the years and rewatchings—mostly along with my mom—I eventually came to love it, because it is just that—a wonderful, realistic love story. I remember my mom strongly disliked the ending, and also remember the ensuing discussions with her about how the ending should have been done…. Talk about an entertainment! Linda told us that “D-Day the Sixth of June” was one of the films shown during the RT’s 100th Birthday Party in 2011. Must have been sheer joy watching it on a big screen along Tessa and Terry and all of those attending, don’t you think? June, any recollections about watching this film there?
No I did not see it at the Robert Taylor Birthday celebrations, which was the only disappointment of the trip. We stayed for 2 nights but still had to go to Murdock where Janie my friend from Vegas who came with me, grew up, so we ran out of time . We had dinner with Linda, Tessa and Terry and all other guests at the celebration, and the film we saw with them was “Westward the Women” which still was a treat with Tessa and Terry sitting behind us. That trip was really one of my lifes highlights and one that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams, living here in Australia.
This film grew on me, too. The title is unfortunate because it does lead people to expect something totally different and they will be disappointed. I wish the ending had been different in that Wynter would survive and live happily ever after with Valerie–but real life isn’t like that, is it? As for Captain Parker, he should go home, tell Jamie all, beg for forgiveness and get on with his life. In a perfect world, the Parkers would visit Britain 20 years later and meet the Wynters and all would be friends. I’m glad the movie went for the tough ending, though.
Thank you Judith for your wonderful post on my favourite Robert Taylor film. I have seen it so many times and still wish it had a different ending, don’t like tough endings! Can’t help being a romantic ! LOL.
One thing puzzles me tho. Among your wonderful photos there is a lobby photo of the two of them in a setting which looks like a part of the film which did not eventuate in the film shown here. They indicated after they got caught in the rain after walking along the coast, they would go to her room in the inn they were staying at, where there was a real fire. The film did not show any footage of that which was always a bit of a disappointment to me. Do you think it was a scene that was left on the cutting room floor ? and was it in the copy that you watched.
You write such a totally professional script you surely must have been in the profession, were you?
Thank you again, just love reading your posts and albeit late hope you had a grand birthday.
June, I don’t remember that photo from the movie. It must have been edited out. What ending would you have liked? Thanks for the compliment about the writing. I’m a retired professor and have done a lot of it, including one long-ago book. I’m playing with the idea of a mystery set in Hollywood in the thirties with RT as the detective. What do you think?
My ending could have gone along the lines of Brad knew that John had been killed, but Valerie, showing her British stoicism, forced the end of the affair because Brad was married. Reluctantly Brad returns home to discover that Janie had become involved with another while he had been away. Marriage over, both agree to separate and Brad returns to England to search and find Valerie. Everybody happy including Su’s mother and me !! That could have been a likely scenario, and true to life at that time. The film was actually only the first part of the book by Lionel Shapiro and Brad did go back to his wife in it. Can’t recall how it went from there as I tracked it down from my local library after seeing the film the first time, which was quite a long time ago.
About you mulling over a Hollywood detective story with RT in the principal role, I think it a fascinating idea. How would you flesh it out?