14 user 3 critic

The Great Impostor (1961)

TV-PG | | Comedy , Drama | 1 May 1961 (USA)
Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. is a versatile man who gets his kicks out of impersonating a marine, a monk, a navy surgeon and a prison warden, eventually getting in trouble with the law for it.


Robert Mulligan


Robert Crichton (novel), Liam O'Brien (screenplay)
2 nominations. See more awards »


Learn more

More Like This 

The Rat Race (1960)
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

Tender romantic comedy about an aspiring musician who arrives in New York in search of fame & fortune. He soon meets a taxi dancer, moves in with her, and before too long a romance develops.

Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Oakie
Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

In order to get back into the good graces with his wife with whom he has had a misunderstanding, a young chemistry professor concocts a wild story that he is an undercover FBI agent. To ... See full summary »

Director: George Sidney
Stars: Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Janet Leigh
Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

To pacify 104 sex-starved male soldiers building an Arctic radar base, Army psychologist Vicki Loren suggests choosing one by lot to have a "perfect furlough" as selected by the men: three ... See full summary »

Director: Blake Edwards
Stars: Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

Hilarity ensues when a casino manager spends a day at Disneyland with a cute but troublesome little girl.

Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Tony Curtis, Phil Silvers, Suzanne Pleshette
Comedy | Fantasy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

Shot by a jealous husband, Charley falls out a porthole and is lost at sea only to find himself returned as an attractive blond woman. His best friend is staying at his house as he puts ... See full summary »

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Stars: Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Pat Boone
The Outsider (1961)
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Tony Curtis plays an Indian (Nicknamed "Chief" by other soldiers) who fights in WWII and helps to raise the flag at Iwo Jima.

Director: Delbert Mann
Stars: Tony Curtis, James Franciscus, Gregory Walcott
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

During the Korean War, Italian nurse Virna Lisi falls in love with two American fliers, Tony Curtis and George C. Scott. Lisi marries Curtis after he convinces her that Scott has been ... See full summary »

Director: Norman Panama
Stars: Tony Curtis, Virna Lisi, George C. Scott
Action | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

Toward the end of World War II, two American soldiers fighting in Southern France become romantically involved with a young, American woman. Her background will reveal more about them than her.

Director: Delmer Daves
Stars: Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood
Comedy | Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

In 1944, an Army doctor is in charge of a neuropsychiatric ward at an Army Air Corps hospital in Arizona, and he must deal with a variety of tough cases.

Director: David Miller
Stars: Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

New York tourist Tony Curtis falls asleep on a Southern California beach on his first night in the West and wakes up to The New Phantasmagoria--catamarans, surfers (including a dog), ... See full summary »

Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Stars: Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Webber
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

In 13th-century Tangiers, regent Mustapha hires a paid assassin to kill baby Prince Hussein in order to usurp his throne but the assassin has second thoughts and steals the baby for himself.

Director: Rudolph Maté
Stars: Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, Everett Sloane
Mister Cory (1957)
Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

A street-smart young man from the Chicago slums dreams of cajoling with the rich and powerful, no matter the cost.

Director: Blake Edwards
Stars: Tony Curtis, Martha Hyer, Charles Bickford


Cast overview, first billed only:
Tony Curtis ... Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. / Martin Donner / Dr. Gilbert / Ben. W. Stone / Dr. Joseph Mornay / Robert Boyd Hammnd
Karl Malden ... Father Devlin
Edmond O'Brien ... Capt. Glover - HMCS Cayuga
Arthur O'Connell ... Warden J.B. Chandler
Gary Merrill ... Pa Demara
Joan Blackman ... Lt. Catherine Lacey
Raymond Massey ... Abbott Donner
Robert Middleton ... R.C. Brown
Jeanette Nolan ... Ma Demara
Sue Ane Langdon ... Eulalie Chandler
Larry Gates ... Cardinal
Mike Kellin ... Clifford Thompson
Frank Gorshin ... Barney
Cindi Wood ... WAC Lieutenant
Dick Sargent ... Hotchkiss (as Richard Sargent)


Based on a true story, a bright young man who hasn't the patience for the normal way of advancement finds that people rarely question you if your papers are in order. He becomes a marine, a monk, a surgeon onboard a Canadian Warship, and a prison warden. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Will the Real Fred Demara Please Stand Up?? See more »


Comedy | Drama


TV-PG | See all certifications »





English | Korean

Release Date:

1 May 1961 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El gran impostor See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Robert Hastings' movie debut. See more »


Curtis is assigned to HMCS Cayuga on 16 June 1951. However, in the Captain's cabin, the picture on the wall is of Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne on 6 February 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI. Also the portrait appears to be the 1956 Annigoni painting of the queen. See more »


Referenced in Remington Steele: Forged Steele (1985) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

The man of many IDs, careers, and escapades
3 August 2018 | by SimonJackSee all my reviews

"The Great Imposter" is one of the most unusual stories ever put on film. Based on a 1959 book by the same title, it's a true story about a man of many identities and many professions. Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. lived from 1921 to 1982. From the time he was a teenager, he lived the lives of some 30 different people. Most of them were "borrowed" IDs from real persons living. And, in most cases, he assumed their careers or credentials which enabled him to pursue another career.

This movie is a fictionalized account of Demara's many IDs and positions before he was 38 years old. Tony Curtis gives a good performance of Demara, who was a physically large man. But Curtis portrays well the character of Demara who was an extrovert with a very upbeat personality. The movie shows many of the real escapades that Demara had -- all that are shown here actually happened. And, there were many more.

This movie is billed as a comedy and drama, but it also ranks as an adventure and maybe even a mystery of sorts. It's not a crime story, but lingers around the edge. Demara is close to a con man, yet he doesn't do anything to rob, steal or gain money from someone else. He doesn't really have victims, but his guises are a type of caper in which he fools an entity or institution in order to get a position.

With all of this, I think Demara's story itself, and this film, also are something of a satire. They get in jabs at the government, education system, institutions and various professions where they build on credentials. Here was a man who had the Ph.Ds. and accolades behind his assumed names, but who hadn't earned those honors and yet could do the job or hold down the position, whatever it was.

This is a fine film and one that everyone should enjoy. The full story about Demara makes great reading. For those who would like just a condensed version of more of his background, I provide the following.

Demara did spend 18 months in a U.S. Navy disciplinary barracks for desertion, but otherwise never was tried or convicted of any crime or wrongdoing. That probably was due to the nature of his forged or faked IDs. He never took on a new position for money, or stole or robbed from anyone. He lived on the money he was paid for the various jobs he had under the various IDs. In several of his assumed IDs, he made significant contributions.

But how could he take on so many diverse careers successfully? He had a photographic memory and could quickly read and easily memorize textbooks. He supposedly had an exceptionally high IQ. Asked later in life why he didn't just use his skills to advance as himself, Demara said that he was just being a rascal. He left school and ran away because it was too slow. He liked the adventure and challenge of each new thing. He was interested in many things. None of it ever was harmful. Much of it was in helpful and in humanitarian fields.

Among the many careers or positions he worked in, most under his fake (assumed) IDs, were several in the medical field, education, and social welfare. Before his Canadian Royal Navy service as a surgeon, he was trained as a Navy corpsman (medic), was a sanitarium orderly, and a psychologist. He was an elementary school teacher, taught at two different colleges, and founded a college that today is Walsh University in Canton, Ohio. He entered and tried Catholic religious orders, including time as a Trappist monk, a Benedictine monk, and a member of the Christian Brothers that run schools.

Demara worked as a counsellor at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles. He received a graduate certificate from Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon and for a time was pastor of a Baptist parish in that state. In his last years, he was a visiting chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital of Orange County in Anaheim California. He befriended many people over his life, including the owners of the hospital. He was allowed to live there and died of heart failure due to diabetes.

Demara served as a prison deputy warden, as a sheriff's deputy, and as a lawyer. Other guises and jobs he had were as a civil engineer, an editor, a cancer researcher and a childcare expert. His is almost a fairy tale story of many escapades.

It's only natural to compare this story and film with that of Frank Abagnale Jr., and the 2002 movie, "Catch Me if You Can." But there is a big difference between the two characters. Abagnale was a true con artist who set out to make millions of dollars, by dishonest means. Demara was a genius who wasn't driven for money but by curiosity, many interests and a sense of adventure that led him to try many fields. As I noted, he was on the edge but he never pursued a scam operation to cheat or steal from, or hurt anyone else.

I don't understand why one might see this film as a bad influence for children. With proper discussion, one can point out the good things Demara tried to do. And then tell children they should try them the right way. Or, does anyone think that there are thousands, hundreds or even dozens of such genius personalities and with such abilities among the young today? If there have been up to the late 20-teens, they haven't gotten very far. Or, there surely would be more than one such story.

0 of 0 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 14 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Stream Comedy Titles With Prime Video

Explore popular comedy titles available to stream with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed