Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gummi Puppen?

This post is dedicated to the memory of a friend.

            A long time ago I abandoned the idea of ever making any money writing or that anything I had to say was of much interest to anyone. This blog is evidence of that, more or less. Despite this I always write with the idea of trying to please some unknown someone (writing for your readers) but this one is for me. I have nothing more in mind than pleasing myself as I remember a dear friend whose worth to me became even more apparent after he'd gone. So I'm warning you now that this post has a bunch of video clips attached to it and I have no idea how it'll turn out. The idea occurred to me sometime before June as we were approaching the 70th anniversary of D-Day but between travel and preparing a presentation on the trombone for Bordeaux-USA, I'm only getting around to it now. In putting together my trombone project, I learned how to use Imovie and went a little nuts making videos. The same thing happened again and for the past week or so, I've been working on clips to stick into this post.

            To get to the actual story, for years I've had a copy of "The Longest Day", (now on DVD) which I drag out every year around June 6.  While this movie might represent a more or less historically accurate portrayal of the events, much of it is pretty over-the-top Hollywood, at least by today's standards. And it's even more important to me now because much of its minutiae was part of a friendship that I've been missing lately.
My hero
                  My favorite character has always been Werner Pluskat, the German soldier who first discovers "die invasion." If you've seen the movie, and all real Americans have, you'll know that poor old Werner was the guy who was just minding his own business, trying to get a little sleep, when a phone call from his boss yanks him out of bed and sends him to work. (I've had this same experience - more than once.) So off Warner goes to his bunker overlooking one of the soon-to-be-invasion beaches and the next think he knows, he and his men are getting the shit shelled out of him. To top it all off, his boss doesn't believe him when he finally gets him on the phone. (A familiar scenario for most working stiffs)

            Once upon a time, when humans still answered telephones at most places including the FBI, it would sometimes happen that, in the act of being transferred or sometimes just because, your line would go dead and you'd find yourself suddenly listening to a dail tone. On one of these frustrating occasions early in my New York years I reacted as I frequently did, cursing and banging the phones plungers while shouting, "Pluskat, Pluskat, hören sie mich?" At the same time I was in the middle of a futile attempt at learning to speak passable German but the only use I'd gotten from it was that it helped my pronunciation of quotes from "The Longest Day."  Anyway, the only guy who ever got it (everyone else just thought I was a pain in the ass), was a co-worker that loved this flick, too. He also spoke fluent German. This initial episode lead to a discussion of the film that continued as long as we were friends. This clip is our favorite "Pluskat" moments:

             A lot of what we always found funny about this movie, in a ten-year-old boy sort of way, has to do with not only the way German sounds to English speaking ears but how some of the lines are delivered. In fact, I'm still giggling over making this little clip of German generals Marcks and Pemsel discovery of the Allies dropping of rubber dummies, or dolls - gummi puppen in German. See for yourself:

            Along these same lines, I so impressed one of our Quantico instructors with my ability to impeccably recite, "wounds my heart with a monotonous langor" in German that every time I talked to him he made me repeat it. Now I can say it in French as well and after listening to this over and over you can, too.

            One of the things I liked to do with my friends, particularly as a teenager, was watch movies while maintaining a running, usually mocking, commentary. (The old Comedy Central show "Mystery Science Theatre 3000 completely ripped us off on this.) I've never entirely abandoned this practice and it's one of the reasons some people hate to watch movies with me, one of whom still lives here. As an example this vignette always evoked a, "Ah, that makes two, general."

            The all-star cast meant, despite Darryl F. Zanuck's original intent notwithstanding, that a lot of this is pretty "Hollywood" and a good example is Peter Lawford's impeccably stylish-for-the-'60s hair.
               Other nice Hollywood touches, I've always thought, are the cheery Brits singing "The Lambeth Walk" as they got ready to drop onto the Orne river bridge and Sean Connery's similarly colorful Irishman.
                As far as the acting goes my vote for most god-awful performance has to go to John Wayne. Throughout he sounds like one of any number of impressionists doing him, which some folks might say he sounded like all the time. But at around this same time he also made The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one of my all-time favorites and he was great in that. This little snippet, especially the last "That is all" will show you what I mean.

            There are a lot of performances here that I've always thought warranted a "Longest Day" wing next to the "Richard III" wing of the Royal Hospital for Overacting. Roddy McDowell's "Juuuuuuuuuuuuuuune" and Richard Burton's scenes are good examples but my favorite is this guy, whose name I don't even know. He delivers this, his only line, which such gravity that I've always pictured him off someplace by himself, going over and over it as many different ways as he could think of - making the most of his big chance. By the way, I've also wondered what the problem was with General Bradley since they didn't give him a line at all. Maybe he was somebody's cousin.

            I've always felt sorry for "General Eisenhower", a Hollywood set designer they used for obvious reasons, who must have known from the beginning he was in over his head. I wonder how many takes went into this?

             By far the most unfortunate aspect of this film is the recurring theme, written by Paul Anka, at the time a heartthrob of teenaged girls. I guess they figured it would be another good way to coax young female bums onto theatre seats but picking Mitch Miller to deliver the closing theme? You tell me.

            I had loads more but this is long enough as it is. I've never really asked for comments before but I honestly would like to hear from anyone who wants to share their own favorite "Longest Day" moments.
           So, George, did I leave anything out?           


  1. what an awesome read Bruce...I know you and I have very similar senses of twisted humor, but I have yet to see the Longest Day I am ashamed to say...I must have been too busy taking your phone calls at the human answered switchboard and sending them to back to Squad 8 at your extension...My fave WW2 movie Bruce that I know by heart now is "Das Boot", an epic masterpiece from 1982 when Wolfgang Peterson was an unknown director. In fact, I own the original 3 hour and 45 minute uncut German version on DVD...But I am watching the Longest Day as my next project.

    1. Thanks, Ted, I'm glad you liked it. I'm a big fan of "Das Böot", too, and bought probably the same version you have. I got it over here so you can pick your subtitles from about a dozen different languages.