Operation Overlord, the ominous codename for the D-day invasion, involved transporting nearly three million troops across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy in occupied France. The majority of World War II movies that cover D-day, even the famed grunt-level sequence in Saving Private Ryan, emphasize the enormity of the operation, the waves of Allied troops who threw themselves at German encampments. Though constructed from a scrupulous selection of archival footage, Stuart Cooper's mournful 1975 fictional account Overlord focuses squarely on one man's experiences in the days leading up to the invasion, keeping the larger picture out of focus. The film's ant's-eye view of warfare captures the universal dread of the average private, who may feel that his is just one of a sea of bodies offered up for sacrifice. When the hero steels himself for battle, he isn't preparing for war. He's preparing for death.
Produced in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum—which provided the 3,000 hours of footage that Cooper and his crew mined for their story—Overlord seamlessly integrates war photography with scripted scenes shot by frequent Stanley Kubrick collaborator John Alcott. With a copy of David Copperfield tucked under his arm and Dad shooing him out the door, Brian Stirner gets the call to join the British forces in the lead-up to D-Day. Much of the film takes place in training camp, where Stirner goes through the requisite exercises, befriends the mates that will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, and makes romantic overtures toward a friendly woman (Julie Neesam) he meets at a village dance. Finally, on June 6, 1944, he and his buddies are plopped onto a transport vessel, anxiously awaiting their fate.
Though not as aggressive as the freeform artistry of '70s contemporaries like Nicolas Roeg or Richard Lester, Cooper's film spins a hypnotic tone from flash-forwards, fantasy sequences, and dreamlike premonitions. Stirner imagines how he'll get shot and how he'll be prepared for burial, almost as if he's preemptively removing his soul before it's ripped from his body. When he burns the last of his private papers prior to battle, his final thoughts are simple and chilling: "I have nothing left."
Key features: Lots of terrific supplements, including a commentary track with Cooper and Stirner, reflections by Imperial War Museum archivists, readings from D-day soldiers' private journals, a tribute to war photographer Robert Capa, and "A Test Of Violence," Cooper's 1969 short about the Spanish Civil War.