The Great Impostor (1960) Poster

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A real personal performance by Tony Curtis for me
bkoganbing28 January 2005
My favorite Tony Curtis picture has always been The Great Imposter. He's supported in this true story of a man who wouldn't settle for the humdrum by a wonderful cast of Hollywood players.

This film is particularly personal to me because I knew a Ferdinand Waldo DeMara character in my life. This person was not a great impostor like Curtis plays in this film, but like DeMara was amazingly bright and was a quick study. Even though he didn't have a high school diploma just like Fred DeMara, like DeMara with study he could learn enough to do anything. Unfortunately in the span of his life on earth all he did was use his brain was to con the social service system. And like Karl Malden's priest confidante to Tony Curtis, I told him he could do so much more with his life. Tony Curtis's performance is spot-on for me.

I have to say that my favorite moment in the movie is when DeMara is finally unmasked and we see a series of reaction shots of the various people he's fooled. Most of the facial expressions are of shock, but Raymond Massey who plays the Abbott of a Trappist Monastery reads the newspaper and has a grin that is priceless.

Recently Leonardo DiCaprio did a similar film and Catch Me If You Can did not take as lighthearted an approach as The Great Imposter. But the two should be viewed side by side for comparison. Leo's Frank Abegnale is also spot-on, but I think I like Tony Curtis's performance a tad better.

Maybe because this film is so personal others might not see it as I do, but I give it the best rating around.
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Another Interesting Role For Curtis
ccthemovieman-128 May 2006
Tony Curtis portrays "Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.," who faked being a doctor, warden, monk and teacher. When I saw this at the theater 45 years ago, I thought it was fascinating. Much older and seeing it on tape about 10 years ago, it wasn't as interesting as I had remembered. I guess when you're a kid, everything on the big screen is impressive.

Humor helped in this film, giving it some life here and there as it's a bit slow-moving but still entertaining. I've usually found Curtis entertaining to watch, a man who played a lot of interesting characters. I still think he is/was an underrated actor, too.

It was nice seeing the main character, although being a fake, still asking for God's help in certain situations, inside knowing he was not doing the right thing. Those parts would be edited out if the film was re-made today. I agree, too, with a fellow reviewer that faking being a surgeon is not something to be laughed at, especially if he was doing his operating on you or me!
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Fun masquerade
TheLittleSongbird25 August 2018
Tony Curtis may not have been the greatest of actors (though he did give some great performances), but he was very charismatic and immensely likeable and improved hugely with each film, it was very difficult to dislike him even early in his career. Reading the subject matter gave the impression that 'The Great Imposter' would be interesting and entertaining. There is also a good deal of talent in the cast.

Luckily, 'The Great Imposter' turned out to be exactly that, exactly what it seemed it would be on paper. It was interesting and it was very entertaining, the latter being especially strong, those two being its main objectives and they were achieved. Won't say it was a masterpiece or classic cinema because it wasn't, not everything works, but like Curtis one cannot be too hard on 'The Great Imposter' with so much working in its favour. It knows what it wants to be, who to aim it at and shows a lot of effort without trying to bite more than it can chew or play it too safe.

Would have liked DeMura's motivations to have gone into depth more or properly explored/explained, this aspect felt underdeveloped.

Also didn't buy his reform, which felt rushed and too pat to me, but that's personal opinion.

On the other hand, 'The Great Imposter' looks attractive, especially in the photography, and is assuredly directed. The music is never intrusive, low-key, obvious or repetitive, it fits well and not hard at all to remember.

While the facts and subject are adapted loosely and the tone significantly more light-hearted compared to the biography, of which it is a loose adaptation of, the light-hearted wit is infectious, it doesn't get too camp or silly and those unfamiliar with the man and story before seeing the film will find themselves wanting to learn more. The story is crisply paced and while odd in places (in an appealing way) it doesn't get too hard to follow. The surgery scene is priceless and avoids the trap of falling into distaste, do agree though it is not a subject to be laughed or poked fun at usually.

Did worry as to whether Curtis would be able to handle multiple roles and whether he would pull it off, but didn't need to be. He does splendidly here, we have as much fun as he clearly did, and one can really see how much he grew as an actor from when he first started a decade or so before. Raymond Massey, Edmund O'Brien and Karl Malden are particularly note-worthy in support.

All in all, lots of fun. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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For every masquerade there comes a midnight hour
dpbradshaw31 January 2018
After a detailed reading R. Crichton's, " The Great Imposter," and viewing the movie, it becomes quite obvious that the movie only loosely follows Demara's actual charades and exploits. As a matter of fact, several of scenes in the movie: 1) The manure farmer- police car chase was fictitious, 2) Demara also impersonated Dr. Robert Litton French, as a Professor of Philosophy at Gannon University, 3) As Dr. Cecil Boyce Haman, a candidate for first year law courses at Northwestern University Law School, 4) Demara also enrolled in 10 Catholic monasteries across the county, under assumed identities, using forged documents. He either quit because they were catching on, or he could not endure the physical and spiritual demands of that order, 5) His impersonation in the Royal Canadian Navy was that of Canadian, Harvard-educated Dr. Joseph Cyr, whose complete academic records and personal history he acquired when they were fellow brothers at the "Brothers of Christian Instruction" in Maine. Demara was known then as "Brother John."

The sad irony of Demara's life was that he had the intellect to adapt, learn, survive and prosper in the systems and roles he assumed. He actually did the jobs perhaps equally to, or better than the individuals he impersonated, because he actually believed he had more to prove, to substantiate his value and authenticity. He actually gave more in dedication, effort and work to improve the jobs and positions he impersonated, than he took.

Demara believed he was fighting against an unfair, unjust and discriminatory system, which "starting point" judged a person not by their intellect, personal motivation, character, or ability to do the job,... but solely upon their academic credentials. Demara believed that, if you played by the rules, you either died as a hero, or lived long enough to see yourself become a villain. That the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. Demara's impersonation of Surgeon Lt. Joe Cyr of the Royal Canadian Navy was the high point, and greatest challenge of his persona. He learned in 4 months reading medical books the equivalent of 5 years of medical school. He could read surgical procedures, memorize, and repeat them to perfection on the operating table.

His greatest disgrace was being uncovered after he completed 19 consecutive life saving surgeries on severely injured Korean War commando team members, when his meritorious actions were broadcast across the entire Canadian and American news media spectrum. Equally devastating was his loss of Lt. Nursing Sister Catherine Lacey, whom he deeply loved and intended to marry after resigning his commission from the RCN, upon his return from Korea.

Demara died at the age of 60, a miserable, lonely and broken man, who never got over loosing Catherine...who had only himself to blame.
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Wanting DVD
clifh21 October 2002
I can not imagine why this movie has not been released on DVD. When it first came out I went to see it several times. When it is on TV I always watch it. Not only is the story and performance of Curtis great, the music score is memorable.
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mikeb-231 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
There isn't a trivia option for this movie, so I'm having to post this in "general comments", and I'm not really sure if this is a spoiler, but a little caution goes a long way.

Ferdinand Demara spent the last years of his life as a chaplain at a hospital in Southern California. He lived in an apartment complex right next to the hospital, where I also lived. He was as close as he could be if he were suddenly needed.

Other people in the apartments had seen Tony Curtis come by from time to visit Rev. Demara.

It was good to know that he had finally found a job/vocation which he enjoyed enough to stick with.
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It's almost impossible to believe..
Chaz-1229 December 2002
That this movie, made in 1961, wasn't the inspiration for Frank Abagnale (Catch me if you can), the bit Spielberg/DeCaprio/Hanks hit currently in theaters. When I saw the promos for CMIYC I thought, "Hey! This is a remake of an old Tony Curtis film!"

The IMDB search shows that The Great Impostor was made in 1961; Frank Abagnales adventures as an imposter started in '62 or '63. Wonder if he saw the film?

I can't remember if I loved The Great Impostor or not but I'm guessing I did; the plot is sooooooooo similar to Catch Me If You Can and I liked that film quite a lot!
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Hilarious scene with Edmond O'Brien
Morg-513 September 2000
If you haven't seen this movie, catch it for at least one reason: About an hour into it Tony Curtis is passing as a surgeon on a Canadian warboat with Edmond O'Brien as its captain. O'Brien comes down with an impacted molar, and Curtis has to remove it. What happens after that is totally unforgettable. They should make special awards just for scenes this funny!
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A Treasure Trove of TV Icons Past
thejcowboy2218 May 2016
I never played basketball for my high school but let it be noted that I played three years for the Morman chapter of Queens ward for a kindly neighbor Warren Smith. Warren lived a few houses over from me and we would talk about college football when in essence I wanted to pick the winning team on my gambling sheet. One day Warren was asked by his bishop to put together a basketball team. Warren had only a few that were interested but for the most part he couldn't find the players for his team. One day he invited my friends and I to play a pick up game out in Plainview, Long Island against a squad of Mormon member players from Terryville. We handled ourselves very well and played with an enthusiasm and dexterity which caught the eye of the regional director. Warren admitted that his team was made up of mostly non members of the Latter Day Saints but assured the director he would do his best to proselytize each of us and join the Mormons. I had to change my name to Roberts and not to reveal my real ethnic name. That was the first time I used an alias and not my real identity. Precursor to the Movie Catch Me If You Can in 2002. Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. took all the short cuts and most certainly did not play by anyone's rules. From being a poor boy in Massachusetts to a Naval Surgeon in Her Majesty's Royal Canadian Navy. This movie is quite a ride for the adventurous soul hidden in all of us. From the army Prisoner to becoming a prison warden's right hand man, Mr. Demara is an employer's dream doing everything asked of him and more. Tony Curtis exploits his charm and personality in all those demanding and responsible occupations and somehow pulling off the near impossible with spectacular results.As we follow Waldo throughout his life's journey we just happen to notice Television personalities burst on the scenes. Doodles Weaver, Larry Gates, Gary Merrill, Edmund O'Brien,Jerry Paris and David White as we see a Bewitched TV show connection here. Raymond Massey portrays an Abbott. Arthur O'Connell plays a Prison Warden to name a few. Doodles Weaver shows up as an inebriated truck driver. Dick Sargent and David White both play Doctors. Frank Gorshin and Mike Kellin show their talents as disgruntled convicts.Always 10 steps behind is Karl Malden (Fr. Devlin), who is the Demara's family Priest as he tries to follow our mountebank along his dissent from one job to another always Ten steps ahead. Fun for all to watch and just when the authorities step in to catch our star in the act you'll be surprised who is hired to solve this dilemma. Great vehicle for Tony Curtis! As for the Mormon Church, Warren's failed attempts to convert us was not in vain but rather a collection of wonderful memories during my adolescence and if one of those holier than thou members ask what part of the church I'm from? I would answer, "The religious part!" G-d Bless you Warren!
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Sympathy for the Devil.
rmax30482327 July 2004
I genuinely dislike these smooth-talking narcissistic psychopaths. They're like the guy who pushes in front of you in a long line and offers a charming but false explanation. Great for him but everybody else is deprived of the place in line that they've earned. Very amusing to see DeMara in all these high-status positions -- doctor, researcher from Yale, prison warden, monk. Suppose he'd killed someone on the Canadian destroyer? It doesn't help that he looks heavenward and mutters, "God, please don't let me kill anybody." He should have thought of that before. And his settling down with a straightforward love of his life who reforms him is unbelievable.

That gets the bad stuff out of the way. Tony Curtis is near his best, jaunty when it's called for, sweaty and nervous when necessary. His meeting with Mickey Kellin in the dark prison cell is pretty spooky. We can believe that Curtis is scared. We can also believe that Kellin is anxious to cooperate in some scheme that saves both his neck and his face.

The scene in which Curtis, as a Canadian doctor must remove the abcessed tooth of Captain Edmund O'Brien could not be improved upon. I can't watch that scene without busting up. O'Brien frozen in this awkward position, an agonized expression on his face, like an exhibit in Madam Toussaud's Wax Works.

I'm glad he finally got caught before he caused too much damage. Speaking of the damage we don't see much of it here. It's all pretty lighthearted, which is one way of approaching exploitation. An example of what I mean by "damage." I would feel sorry for the Naval officer who falls in love with him and redeems him, if she existed. In real life, these stimulus-hungry anti-social personalities are easily bored. They tend to attract women, use them, and blow them off. I would expect DeMara to have left a lot of hurt women along his madcap trail.
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An Enjoyable Schtick About a Real-Life Con Artist, Similar to "Catch Me if You Can"
classicalsteve23 June 2018
"The Great Impostor" is quintessential Tony Curtis. Curtis was never an exceptional screen actor but a decent one, probably more for his good looks and charisma than his ability to become different people. He is in the category of what I call "charisma actors". (I would include Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in the same category.) Charisma actors are talented and can be very convincing given the right role. And this was the right role for Curtis.

"The Great Imposter" tells the true story of Ferdinand Waldo Demara (Curtis) who was chronicled in a novelistic book of the same name written by Robert Crighton (who also wrote "The Secret of Santa Vittoria"). Demara assumed different identities, such as a monk, a sheriff's deputy, and notably, a prison warden, usually without the expected credentials. Probably the exploit he is most known for which brought him both recognition but exposed his chicanery was becoming a ship's surgeon for the Canadian military during the civil war in Korea. And he didn't have a medical degree!

Curtis was perfect casting as Demara. He makes his character fun and likeable. The real Demara was somewhat heavy-set, unlike Curtis. However, Curtis captures the essence of Demara's likability which was probably the reason for his success. The real Demara found ways of inserting himself to situations without alienating or threatening those already there. While the movie exaggerates a little bit the outcomes of some of Demara's ventures, it's a fun and thoroughly entertaining film. Not one which will go down in the annals of the greatest movies ever made, but it holds its own. A must for Curtis fans.
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My favorite Tony Curtis film
weezeralfalfa2 December 2016
This very interesting film was based upon a book of the same name, in turn, based upon the extremely unorthodox life of Ferdinand Demara.

Watching this film naturally leads us to the question of what motivated Demana to lead this semi-criminal life? Is he a compulsive snake?: one who must periodically shed his skin because he needs new types of challenges periodically to avoid boredom? Or is he playing a cat and mouse game, periodically testing whether he can, once again, beat the system in assuming the identity of someone else? I suspect some of both. Unlike as shown in the film, he actually joined a monastery for several years when he ran away from home at age 16. I would think it extremely unusual for a restless teen to do so. I think that should tell us something about his psychological state.

There is always the problem of a few people who meet the bureaucratic requirements for a profession or advanced schooling but lack real life competency vs. those who are or show promise of being quite competent but lack the bureaucratic criteria for being accepted as an advanced student or as a professional.

The film dramatizes only a few of Demara's impersonations, albeit some of the most astounding. His attempt to reform the typical brutality in prisons was one highlight. However, his masquerading as a doctor in the Canadian Navy during the Korean war is the most unbelievable segment. Included is his historical surgery on several wounded Koreans while aboard ship.

I wonder if he had gotten married if he would have settled down? The fact that he tried to make it as a monk in his early adulthood may suggest that he didn't have marriage in his plans. Incidentally, Sue Anne Langdon sure was cute and vivacious as an aggressive man eater!

Demana is shown faking a suicide. This really happened.

I'm very surprised that this film was shot in B&W at this late date(1961), although Universal was a notoriously cheap studio.
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The man of many IDs, careers, and escapades
SimonJack3 August 2018
"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.
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pretty well-done but lousy message for the kids!
MartinHafer27 February 2006
This movie was very entertaining. Watching Tony Curtis assume all these different identities was fun to watch and all seemed like harmless fun. The problem, though, for me is that the real-life guy the character was based upon was a selfish jerk that could have easily hurt people. In a movie, it looks cute when a guy posing as a surgeon does an operation but in reality it's pretty awful--and highly illegal. And that is the problem--the movie sensationalizes and makes a hero of a terrible person than should never be idealized. Considering the message the film gives our kids, I would have loved it if they also emphasized the evil this man or others like him did as well. For a more well-rounded view of one of these brilliant sociopaths, try CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, as it shows the damage as well as the consequences (though in that case they were far less than they could have been).
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