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A funny and fascinating story with a great lead from one of many wartime heroes
When the British intelligence service is faced with the challenge of convincing the Germans that they intend to invade from North Africa they are stumped - the attack is clearly going to come across the channel into France, they know it and the Germans' know it. However, when Major Harvey visits a theatre he happens upon an actor who impersonates General Montgomery as part of the show. Within days Corporal Clifton-James is recruited to impersonate Monty in the Mediterranean in order to trick the enemy into thinking an attack is due from that direction.
I only found out about this film after hearing the Goon show's spoof `I was Monty's treble'; at that time I was vaguely aware of the history, but not of the details and not of this film. The film is based on the memoirs of the events from the point of Clifton-James himself and are reasonably factual, despite the fact that the film has an enjoyably comic tone to it for the majority. What it does do very well is to portray him as a real person; his reluctance to take the job, his nerves, his insecurity and so on - at no point is he a strong-jawed, guns-blazing hero, instead he is a man doing what he needed to do in wartime. This really helps the film and is actually complimented by the comic tone.
What helps it even more is the presence of Clifton-James as himself. His performance is very normal - by which I mean he never plays to the fact that he is a hero, he comes across as a very unassuming gentleman, as I find those who serve in the military in a low/medium rank for some time tend to be. In both his book and this film he could have made himself look more heroic and less reluctant but he never does. Mills is excellent in the supporting role and enjoys a more comic touch than many of his war films allow him. The support cast are just as good and it is fun to see so many well known faces including Cecil Parker, Sid James, Leslie Philips and John Le Mesurier sending up the profession of acting! Of course it is Clifton-James who is the draw even alongside these big names; he is a true hero - and it's impossible to forget that as you watch this, these are not fictional risks, he lived this for the greater good.
And it is this that made the film so fascinating to me. Many flag waving films will miss this point, but heroism is often not natural; it often comes forced onto people and is found in the most unlikely of places. In this film we see first hand how an ordinary man with no real confidence or ability is called and rises to the challenge, not because it is his dream or desire but because his country needs him and needs must. Although he plays it quite light here, I will always remember what he did and who he was - I shall be looking for his book on the internet once I finish writing here.
Overall this is a tremendously fun war movie. It lacks action until the end and focuses on Clifton-James as a person as he goes from put upon little actor in the military to one of the most important people in the Normandy landings. A fascinating story, a real inspiration and a funny film to boot
should be seen by as many people for as long as possible. Lest we
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