This 1975 film details the events leading up to Operation Overlord, or as it is more commonly known: D-Day. If you are looking for an action filled war movie in the vein of Saving Private Ryan, then look elsewhere. In fact Overlord has more in common with Terrence Malick’s 1998 film The Thin Red Line, with its poetic and dreamlike qualities, than any other film, save Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, but I’ll get to that later.
Overlord is a mesmerising film for many reasons. The first, and most obvious reason is the amount (and quality) of footage from the actual war that was used in the production of the film. Overlord was co-produced by Britain’s Imperial War Museum, and the filmmakers had immense access to all of the museums resources. The stock footage is outstanding, from mid-air dog-fights, bombings to even something as simple as troops on the move – the film has many original images that heighten its reality and it will have you thinking long after the film is over. If I have one complaint, it is that maybe there is just too much footage used, and the film at times resembles a more artistic version of an Ed Wood film, with the film constructed around the original footage rather than the it being used to heighten the film. It’s not a complaint per se, but it is something that I noticed.
Stuart Cooper’s film is also highly recommended because it looks like it was filmed in the 1940’s. The acting style, the black and white photography, add a realism to the film that makes it appear more like a British film of the time. It really is hard to believe that this film was made thirty years after the event. To add to the film’s style Cooper and (Kubrick) cinematographer John Alcott apparently used cameras from the period to heighten the sense of reality and help blend the newly shot footage with its archive companions.
It is plain from watching Overlord that it inspired many filmmakers including Oliver Stone and Stanley Kubrick. The iconic image of Willem Dafoe from Stone’s Platoon is lifted directly from Cooper’s film, while the first half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket borrows liberally from this 1975 feature. Kubrick is even quoted as saying “that the only thing wrong with Overlord is that it is an hour and half too short.”
I’ve got to hand it to Stanley, he’s not far wrong with that remark.
Overlord is a forgotten gem of a film that is a must for students of film and of history. It’s unlike any other war film and the archive footage used in the film adds a sense of realism that a million dollars worth of CGI would never be able to replicate. Highly recommended.
There are wonderful extras on this World War II film. There is an informative commentary by director Stuart Copper, a chat with actor Nicholas Ball an original theatrical trailer, as well as an interview and tour of the Imperial War museum by Keeper of the archives Roger Smither. All said, this is a pretty comprehensive package.