Although the film was a ostensibly a 20th Century Fox production, THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS was filmed in England using primarily English crew and cast (though American leads). It belongs to a tradition of English war films in which aspects of the war are treated slowly, deliberately, and with great precision. While in the US war films tended to feature John Wayne leading Marines into combat, the British tended to focus much more on the preparation and plans of operations. For instance, the very fine film THE DAM BUSTERS features very little in the way of actual combat. And THE MAN WHO NEVER WAY has no combat whatsoever.
The movie is based on a book by the same name about Operation Mincemeat, in which the British attempted to mislead the Germans about the intended invasion spot for D-Day by planting a corpse with fake papers on a beach in Spain, knowing that the Spanish would pass the papers onto the Germans. The entire movie is involved with the formation of the plan, and then creating the man who never was, creating his papers and personal effects. On one level, not much happens in the film, but on another it is one of the most fascinating films ever made about the war, because of the practical problems they deal with in the executing of the operation. Knowing that it was all based upon real events greatly adds to the appeal of the film.
Clifton Webb, who was in fact far too old for the part, turns in a convincing performance as Lieutenant Commander Montagu. In most of his films he comes across as arrogant, but in this one he instead communicates competence and intelligence. Gloria Grahame is excellent as the primary female presence in the film. If you look carefully, you can spot Stephen Boyd in a small role, a few years before he would portray Messala in BEH-HUR.
on July 19, 2005
This is a fine movie of wartime espionage, disinformation and deception. Based on the book by Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, it tells of British Naval Intelligence's attempt to deceive the Germans about the planned 1943 invasion of Sicily. Trying to draw as many German troops away from Sicily as possible, they concocted a plan to have a dead body wash ashore in Spain, with papers purportedly from Allied High Command indicating that the invasion would go by way of Greece or Sardinia instead of Sicily. The subterfuge succeeded. The Germans embarked on a massive build up of defences around Sardinia and the Greek Peloponnesus, thinning out their defences on Sicily. The hoax affected not only the Sicilian offensive but had effects across the entire European theater. Hitler swallowed it whole. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was sent to personally supervise the defence of Greece. The 1st Panzer Division was withdrawn from France. Two other Panzer divisions were withdrawn from the Russian front just when they were needed at the crucial Battle of Kursk. Operation Mincemeat, as it was called, was one of the most ingenious and successful hoaxes perpertrated by the Allies during the Second World War.
This is a war movie with little battlefront action. It concentrates on the quiet background work of the Intelligence Service. The first half of the movie deals with the hatching of the plan, the procurement of the dead body, the faking of the dead man's history and the drawing up of his elaborate cover story. The fictional officer is christened "Major William Martin" of The Royal Marines. The second half starts when the Germans fall for the ruse and send a spy over to England to check out its veracity. There follows a cat and mouse game as the British try to tie up loose ends and fill in the fake history they have put together for the dead man, including his purported girlfriend. The movie is always absorbing, often rivetingly so. It is one of the few WW2 espionage films that have stood the test of time. The fact that it was a true story makes it doubly interesting.
Fox have released a barebones edition of the film on DVD. It contains both the widescreen version in its original 2.55:1 Cinemascope (enhanced for widescreen TV) and a fullscreen pan-&-scan version. The widescreen version strangely is placed on the unmarked flipside of the double-sided DVD. Picture quality is fine, very good in fact if you consider this film dates from 1955. There is very little dirt, speckling or any print damage. Colors are strong and bright. Skintones look natural. Black levels are well rendered. The pan-&-scan version version looks terrible in comparison, with a claustrophobic, darker image, heavier grain and a softer picture overall. Sound is available in the original English 2.0 mono, a 4.0 Surround remix as well as alternate Spanish and French 2.0 mono tracks. A single theatrical trailer is all that's included. A fine memento of wartime subterfuge and deception with solid acting and direction from a time when there was still a viable British Film Industry.
Note: The grave at Huelva, on the southern coast of Spain still bears the name "Major William Martin". The real identity of the dead man was kept secret for over 50 years. It was only in 1996 that he was finally identified as a homeless alcoholic Welshman. Today, across the bottom of the white marble tombstone is an added epitaph, finally revealing his identity, "Glyndwr Michael served as Major William Martin".
on March 30, 2002
I rate "The Man Who Never Was" as an excellent and exciting World War II movie. Why can't movies be made like this anymore? Recent World War II movies are not accurate and place too much emphasis on effects. In my opinion, the more "special effects" a movie has, the more fake it is. Anyhow, "The Man Who Never Was" describes the true events of the British trying to confuse the Germans as to where the Allies will invade - Sicily or Greece. By arranging to have a dead body wash ashore in Spain with top-secret documents, the British cause the Germans to alter their defenses, thus saving the Allies from suffering even more casualties. How the British found a body, the details that they had to come up with to make the Germans believe the body was for real, and the subsequent German effort to determine whether or not the information found on the body was accurate, all make for an exciting story which moves at a swift pace. This is really a great World War II movie.
on December 29, 2001
My son asked me to purchase some WWII DVD's for him this past Christmas. Sadly, I wasn't able to include the best NAVAL WWII movies which were made by the British. Two of the best of them were The Man Who Never Was and Sink The Bismark. Sadly neither of these titles are available on DVD. Both are better than just about any of the American WWII movies (yes, I'm an American). Both of these movies are based on TRUE stories (Unlike Disney's latest Pearl Harbor movie!!), only the minor characters are fictional. If you ever see the Man who Never Was you will never forget it. The story is about a true scheme which the Brits used to make the Germans believe the southern European landings were going to be in a different location than the real one. They discuss how to do this and come up with the idea of obtaining a body of a young man, which they are going to dress up as an officer with invasion plans for another location than the one intended. The movie spends a lot of time explaining how they got the body, what they had to do to fake all this, including figuring out on which European beach they should have the body wash ashore. Unlike most American movies, you really get an excellent view of what it's really like to plan CIA type operations. Wonderful movie. You will love all the characters, even the villains!! Lots of naval action from the highest to the lowest commands. Buy it.
---UNFORTUNATELY IT IS NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET!!!----
Neither is "Sink the Bismark", which I remember seeing in college back in the early '60's. I remember it vividly because the auditorium in which it was shown allowed the audience to "attack and sink" the Bismark using paper airplanes!! This movie is also terrific. It too is VERY British. It too explains why the British Navy was so awesome in WWII. It also has great actors in great roles. Super movie. Both of these movies are the best in WWII movies. Now if I could just remember the name of the British naval movie which tells the story of the naval war off the coast of South America!! Yet another wonderful British Naval movie!!
The Man Who Never Was has scenes which should bring tears to your eyes, if you are the least bit sensitive!! Good movie to get your gal into crying on your shoulder!! (And that actually happened as well ;-)
on September 24, 1999
Clifton Webb is perfectly cast as the British Naval Officer who devises the plan to decieve German Intelligence, as to the whereabouts of the Allied landings in Sicily during World War 2. As with most British films of its kind, "The Man Who Never Was" relies upon the facts to maintain interest throughout,tampering with history just enough to provide tension and drama where it is needed. Webb's performance is both intelligent and touching, while Stephen Boyd as the German agent sent to investigate the situation,exudes just the right amount of charm and malevolence. Gloria Graham is probably the only downside to this highly effective film,but the others well and truly make up for her somewhat overcooked effort. Made in 1956, in colour, "The Man Who Never Was" has not "dated" at all and stands as a fine example of the British cinema's ability to tell a good story well.
In what was one of the most successful and infamous deceptions of World War II British intelligence fooled the entire Nazi war machine - and all with the help of a man who never existed.
The deceptions that British intelligence pulled off prior to the D-Day landings are now well-known and well documented - from Gen. Patton being in charge of a fake army to the use of double agents. The allies were able to keep vital German panzer tanks and troops away from the Normandy beaches as Hitler kept his attention on the Calais region.
Yet even before this British intelligence scored another coup by diverting German attention away from the imminent invasion of Sicily by making the Germans believe that Greece and perhaps Sardinia were the actual targets.
They did this by creating the man who never was. Taking the body of a man whose condition could be interpreted as having died from drowning, dressing him in clothes with accompanying documentation and casting him off from a submarine just off the coast of Spain. All with the goal that the body and the vital top secrets it carried being intercepted by the Nazi's.
It was an inspired scheme and this movie, in much the same vein as the similar true-life deception movie I WAS MONTY'S DOUBLE really shines. It's thoroughly entertaining and well acted throughout. For fans of classic British war movies this is a must for your collection and I'm very happy to see it land on DVD.
on February 25, 2006
I saw this movie in a movie house the year it was released in the U.S.A. As I recollect viewing the movie, it was released in the Cinemascope format; essentially a "Letter Box" format. The DVD format starts with a letter box introduction, but then switches to the "Pan and Scan" format. For myself, I find the visual impact I remember of the movie has been lost by using the Pan & Scan format. Every scene looks like it was shot using telephoto lenses, giving the visual effect of always seeing a "Close-up"; it feels like reading a book only four inches away from your eyes. The breadth of the scenes has been lost, significantly diminishing the visual parts of the film. They should re-issue it in letter box format - I would be happy to buy a letter box version.
on August 5, 2006
This film would have been much more famous if Hitchcock had directed it. Ronald Neame does and excellent job. A true story of the Second World War with great locations (another good chance to get a look at the Spain of those times). But the fact that it is a true historical story makes it interesting enough.
Besides, there's Gloria Graham doing an amazingly wonderful performance. It just amazed me how well she was in this role.
This is the second film by Neame that I watch (after Tunes of Glory, which is even better) and both are wonderful movies.
Typical, I would say, of the good-natured, common-man, and respectul films the British used to do before the Beatles generation. A bygone era of which this film reminds me with melancholy.
The only thing that lessens a bit the value of "The Man Who never Was", in my opinion, is the other female character, who does not do such an excellent job as the rest of the cast.
on June 15, 2005
The body of a dead British officer washes ashore on a Spanish beach; he has on him documents alluding to British forces landing in Greece. Before the Nazis rush from Sicily (where the Brits actually will land) to Greece, they send an agent to London to determine if the intelligence is genuine. That's the intrigue in this intriguing docudrama financed by Hollywood (thus the miscasting of Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame) but made by English director Ronald Neame on real locations using English actors.
Cast against type, Webb is suitably correct. Grahame, an Oscar winner for "The Bad and the Beautiful," however, is embarrassing in a key but contrived role as a librarian whose flyer lover is killed. As the Nazi agent snooping around London, the handsome Stephen Boyd dominates the last quarter of the film with steely charm, reminding us again what a loss his early death was to films in the 1950s. And it's nice to see Sir Cyrl Cusack and Joan Hickson (later Miss Marple on television) in bit parts.
What's not so nice (in the version I saw) is the shameful DVD transfer, which begins and ends in the original Cinemascope but throughout reformats to full screen, diminishing the reach of the actual locations and the re-creation of wartime London. This true story, especially the invention of a non-person's whole life, ranks with John LeCarre's tales and "Five Fingers" (still unreleased on DVD) as one of Hollywood's better espionage films. "The Man Who Never Was," considering what he achieved, deserved more respect.
In 1942 Allied powers greatly desired to invade Sicily--a fact of which Axis powers were well aware and against which the island was greatly fortified. In an effort to trick the Nazi military, British intelligence agents Flight Lt. Charles Cholmondeley and Lt. Commander Ewen Montagu came up with a clever plan: a body, bearing papers indicating that the major Allied attack would come elsewhere, was floated in to Spanish waters. Although technically neutral, Spain was sympathetic to the Nazis, and with any luck the papers would be thought genuine and reach German hands.
Although top secret even after the war, a good story is hard to keep down, and after numerous leaks Montagu himself was allowed to write an account of the deception. Titled THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS, the book was an overnight bestseller and the 1956 film version proved very popular as well. In retelling the story on the screen, writer Nigel Balchin took a number of liberties with the story, most particularly in the creation of "Lucy Sherwood" (Gloria Graham), a character who exists largely in order to provide a touch of love and pathos; even so, the film is very accurate in terms of the operation itself and how it was carried out.
Clifton Webb is perhaps best recalled for his waspish roles in such celebrated films as LAURA, but he sets aside his mannerisms for the role of Montagu and drives the action of the film in a remarkably capable manner, well supported by Robert Flemyng as assistant Lt. George Acres (based on Charles Cholmondeley) and Josephine Griffin as Pam, his secretary. Stephen Boyd does well in the Irish-accented role of Nazi agent Patrick O'Reilly, a semi-fictional character, and Gloria Graham, always a memorable performer, scores heavily in the role of Lucy Sherwood.
he film is essentially about process--finding the right body, planting the papers, arranging for the body to be transported, and so on--and as such it moves a fast clip, with director Ronald Neame (an Oscar-winning screenwriter perhaps best now known as director of such films as I COULD GO ON SINGING, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, and THE POSEIDON AVENTURE) keeping everything moving at a good clip. The DVD offers excellent picture and sound, as well as the choice between wide screen and full screen. If you know nothing about Operation Mincemeat, you'll find it fascinating stuff--and if you do know about Operation Mincemeat you'll still find the film entertaining on its own. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer