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The Man Who Never Was
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The Man Who Never Was More at IMDbPro »

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42 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

Perfect Webb in near-perfect film

Author: Holly ( from New York, NY
22 May 2000

Gripping in its adherance to detail, this film casts every role perfectly. The always underrated Gloria Grahame lends the film an unexpected emotional pop, and all others are perfectly in character in executing a complex plan. This movie demands its audience's attention and plays to your intelligence. In other words, it would never be made today! Well worth seeing.

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28 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

A true-story war film that finds its mark

Author: BlueGuild from Toronto, Canada
15 October 2005

As the North African campaign of WWII drew to a close it became obvious that the Allies next move would be to invade Sicily. A deception was therefore needed to try to lure away some of the German defences. Inter-services "XX Committee" (XX for double-cross) members Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, and Squadron Leader Sir Archibald Cholmondley hatched the then unheard of plan of planting a body in the sea off Spain where prevailing currents would surely carry it inshore to the Huelva region, known to be the territory of one of the Nazis' best Spanish agents. The body, dressed as a major in the Royal Marines and apparently killed in a plane crash, would be carrying supposedly top secret documents aimed at convincing any reader that the invasion target was not Sicily at all, but Greece. Montagu himself plays a cameo role in the film as an Air Marshall.

The leading role of Montagu is played by Clifton Webb, utterly credible as a British naval officer, while Robert Flemyng, who had himself served conspicuously in WWII and who was awarded the Military Cross and Order of The British Empire, takes on the role of his junior assistant, a composite role based partly on Cholmondley's real-life character and partly on Montagu's real-life assistant.Together they must procure a body that will pass a medical examination to determine the cause of death and they must also create a personality and a past life and history for this man.

This is a true-story that avoids battle scenes and big bangs. There are no special effects. It describes a war of stealth and cunning and the cat and mouse game of espionage. It is an atmospheric suspense thriller with Stephen Boyd very effective as the determined Axis agent, Patrick O'Reilly, sent in from Ireland to verify the existence and past life of this man who never was. While the soundtrack is one of Alan Rawsthorne's (The Cruel Sea) better scores, it is nevertheless immediately recognizable as being one of his haunting compositions, unfortunately sounding so much like all his others. It is ably directed by the great and sometimes under-rated Ronald Neame. It is beautifully filmed, as are all of former-cameraman Neame's pictures. The voice of Churchill is provided by the young Peter Sellers who, at that time in 1956, was establishing his versatility and making a name for himself in the BBC radio comedy, "The Goon Show".

20th Century Fox's DVD video and sound quality are excellent, as would be expected in the studio release of one of their own productions.

A worthy and entertaining addition to any WWII film collection and if it gives you an appetite for a more in-depth recounting of the true story, Ewan Montagu's 1953 book is still available in both the hardback and paperback editions.

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25 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Based on a true story, and very well done

Author: James Prine ( from New Orleans, La.
19 January 2001

Interesting, absorbing tale based on an actual British Intelligence operation during World War II. The casting (Clifton Webb is perfect in the lead role) was top notch, and the impeccable attention to even minor details was extraordinary. A fan of 'blood and guts' movies would be well advised to look elsewhere...this well-crafted little gem is for the connoisseur.

Stephen Boyd gave a very good performance as an Irish secret agent working for the Nazis. In several scenes, he could barely contain his contempt for the English people he encountered during his mission in London. At one point, after setting himself up for capture by counter-intelligence agents, he awaits their arrival with his Luger pistol, obviously hoping for a bloody showdown, and when the agents fail to appear, he is both relaxed and also angry at not getting to kill anyone. Subtle, yet amazing.

9 out of 10.

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32 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

A soldier's sense of duty extends beyond death

Author: Eric Sayettat ( from Champ sur Drac, France
18 May 2000

Good movie indeed ! A convoluted plan conceived down to the most minute details... Quite realistic and shrewd. Lots of lives were at stake...

I liked the ambiance and the pace of the action. No loud scenes, no heroes (except the corps) just men and a sense of duty and righteousness.

It also takes some brains to win a war not only blood and guts.

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25 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Interesting spy drama

Author: Matthew Ignoffo ( from Eatontown, NJ, USA
20 November 2000

Based on "Operation Mincemeat" during World War II, this film is an excellent example of a spy movie that is interesting without being gimmicky or melodramatic. An excellent cast is headed by the redoubtable Clifton Webb. The elaborate plot to trick Nazis by using a corpse masquerading as a dead Royal Marine officer is amazing in its detail. The film is all the more astonishing because it is based on the actual ruse to deceive the enemy into thinking that the invasion of Italy would take place in a location other than where it actually happened. A good film for espionage lovers.

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27 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

To win by brain,imagination and coincidence

Author: Job Goodman ( from New York, NY
8 August 2004

It was 46 years ago that I have seen this movie and I still can close my eyes and see many of its pictures. The scene where the body of a dead Londoner who died of phenomena, so his corps was suit to be presented as a drowned pilot, submerging from a submarine on a beach in Spain. The scene of the German spy hand on the Morse-code key who is as straggling in making the right decision. The scene in which the car suddenly stopped in the middle of London's traffic for a brain storming session where Clifton Webb who is playing Commander Ewen Montague is in his best. >From the many movies about events at WWII it is one that stacked long in mind as it dealt in the quality of the gray matter of the counterintelligence and not about the brutality of the war. It is a masterpiece when the director, Ronald Neame, was able to inflict the emotionally pain of war in that one scene where coincidently the German spy get a real verification about the staged event. Recommended even 46 years later.

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20 out of 23 people found the following review useful:


Author: Emerenciano from Campina Grande, Brazil
16 July 2002

This is a great movie about WWII. I know we don't have scenes of battles and violence, but maybe this is one of this movie's advantages. I don't think blood and shots are really necessary to make a film about a war. Wars are not only made of guns and soldiers, but also of officers who make plans and articulate attacks while they're in secret rooms using every kind of ways to confuse the enemy. In this movie it is decided that British forces would use a corpse with false documents attracting Nazis attention to Greece while the Allied Forces would land in Italy. Easy, but fascinating plot! Watch it!

My rate 8/10

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16 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Fascinating Sleeper!

Author: ka9fdv from near Chiago, in Indiana
29 January 2006

While I am old enough to have seen many of Clifton Webb's movies, I had never heard of this one. We found it in a video store display. i am delighted to have bought it. The story was streamlined, and well told. No wasted or unnecessary subplots. It was much more intrigue than a usual war movie, and clearly a suspenseful tale. The fact that it is true, only adds to the enjoyment. In spite of it's age, it holds up well. The acting is quite sincere and believable. Gloria Grahame is in one of her best roles. The English cast was mostly unfamiliar, but well chosen. Great and moving ending. I would put as a must see for any WWII or history buff. Most women will sympathize, and not too gory or bloody. But still will appeal to men for the suspense.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

To Fool The Axis...

Author: theowinthrop from United States
6 May 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is an example that occasionally truth can be stranger than fiction. Ewen Montague, an officer in the British military intelligence in World War II, was aware that unless something was done to reduce the defenses that the German and their Italian allies set up in Sicily the Allied assault on the island (which we would observe close up in the movie PATTON) would be a bloody fiasco that might set back the Allied war effort in Europe. The key to it would be to convince the Germans that if an attack was being planned it was being planned for another part of the European continent. Montague was sharp enough to formulate a daring scheme - and this film shows that formulation, the care and planning needed to pull it off, and how it succeeded in fooling the Nazis.

Montague's scheme is to deposit the corpse of an R.A.F. officer off the coast of Spain, still attached to a briefcase full of "invasion plan" documents - except the plans are not for the area of Italy or Sicily but for France. He reasons that the Fascist Franco regime in Spain will be very willing to allow the Nazis to read the secret papers (or copies of them). The trick is to find a corpse that will look like it died violently in battle and can fool the enemy, and that enough "details" regarding the "dead officer" can be verified by Nazi agents in Britain to make the Germans believe the corpse is genuine and not a plant.

So we watch Clifton Webb as Montague (in a rare straight dramatic part - well acted by the way) consult with specialists, including Andre Morell as the famous British Home Office pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury*. A good corpse is selected, and the right amount of proper personal items put into his military tunic and overcoat (including even a restaurant bill for the previous night before his death). When all is ready, the corpse is dumped off the coast of Spain by submarine. And then Montague and British Intelligence sit back and watch what happens, crossing their fingers that the scheme works.

Stephen Boyd (three years from his performance as Messala in BEN HUR) plays an Irishman who is spying for the Nazis, and who eventually discovers that the "corpse" is the genuine article. The result is that the Nazis weakened their defenses in Sicily sufficiently to allow the Allies to show up and (despite the Patton-Montgomery rivalry) retake the island in the first major defeat the Germans had of European conquered territory. A fascinating story well told - and as I said, true despite being so improbable.

*Sir Bernard's career as the leading British Criminal trial pathologist (from the Crippen Case in 1910 to the De Antiquis Case in 1947) was never given a movie treatment. Occasionally he is mentioned, as in UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS in one episode when Edward (Christopher Beeney) is reading a newspaper in 1925 about the "Crowsborough" Murder - the trial of Norman Thorne - and feels that "Sir Bernard will see it through!" Actually, that was one of Spilsbury's most controversial cases. He does deserve a Masterpiece Theater series about his life, which ended in 1947 with his tragic suicide.

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16 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Excellent to Watch

Author: Nicholas Rhodes from Ile-de-France / Paris Region, France
9 May 2004

I have the feeling that this issue of this film on DVD is only a matter of months now. Picture quality and sound are excellent given when it was made. Will appeal to all fans of WW2 movies and illustrates values and heroism which unfortunately seem to have been forgotten today ! It is not a film of great action but the plot maintains the tension throughout and suspense is maintained till the very end. The quotation of a few lines read from a poem conjointly with the view of the sea produced a strange effect on me - although the stories are completely different, I could see some similarities with The Day of the Jackal. Definitely recommended.

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