Usually, life goes on peacefully in Rivedoux-Plage. On this day in 1961, however, the beach at Sablanceaux was certainly agitated. The film crew of The Longest Day, a $10 million American blockbuster, is busy on the long strip of sand re-enacting the landing of Allied troops in Normandy on 6 June 1945. Director Darryl F. Zanuck chose this beach for several reasons. The site allows to take advantage of a rather mild climate and is thus favourable to a serene shooting. The natural light is also magnificent. The presence of German blockhouses also anchors the location definitively in history and saves the production precious dollars in its re-enactment endeavors.
In order to recruit extras, Darryl F. Zanuck mobilized 1500 soldiers from the Arpetee promotions of the Saintes 722 air base near Rochefort. To thank them, he will even offer a cinema to the base. Cinema for the occasion called The Longest Day. Nevertheless, the logistics are important and the filmmaker has to shoot the sequence six times before having usable images in the final cut. It is on the beach of Sablanceaux that the general views of the landing are produced.
Fifty years later, the former soldiers who played in the film met again on the same beach for a commemorative ceremony. The opportunity for them to remember this intense day of shooting. Jean-Claude Galloyer, the president of the EAMAA association, class of 1961, recalled: “It was an unforgettable moment,” he adds. If you watch the film carefully, some details may seem amusing. We were all wearing French or English helmets, not American ones. We also realize that the fatigues have zippers which was not the case on the actual landing day. Another peculiarity in the film is that there are soldiers running on the beach with a gun in their hands. In reality, they are all wooden rifles carved from 8mm plywood.“
2000 real soldiers were hired by the production of The Longest Day to act as extras.
Rivedoux-Plage is the first town on the island of Ré to present itself to visitors from the mainland. The beach of Sablanceaux, located in the south, faces La Rochelle and the island of Aix.
Considered as the cradle of modern oyster farming, the commune of Rivedoux-Plage has several tourist sites of interest such as its famous bridge, its small harbor, on the north coast, the Chauvreau lighthouse, the Redoubt, a fortification built by Vauban in 1674, the House of the Count d’Hastrel and the tide mill. Frequented by swimmers and bathers, the south beach is also a famous surf spot. The blockhouses of the Second World War, once present, have since been destroyed. The site remains popular for having hosted the filming of The Longest Day in the early 1960s.
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