Clifton Webb stars in this fascinating account of a daring intelligence operation designed to mislead the Nazis prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. In an effort to convince the Germans to redeploy their defenses, Lt. Commander Montagu (Webb) creates a false English officer and fabricates letters that indicate the British intend to land in Greece. Montagu than plants these documents on a dead man and orchestrates the "discovery" of this "officer" on the coast of Spain, Knowing the papers will fall into German hands. What follows is a taut cat-and mouse game as British Intelligence waits for Berlin to respond, then races to stay one step ahead of the Nazi agent dispatched to determine if the dead man is genuine. This true story of ingenious deception is a riveting tale of wartime espionage.
A real beauty of a true story provides the basis for The Man Who Never Was
, a gripping World War II picture that has no combat scenes, no great vistas of troops. The time is 1943, as the Allies prepare the invasion of Sicily and desperately need a diversionary ploy to make the Germans suspect another invasion target. The solution is simple but ingenious: a dead man's body will be left in the sea to float ashore on the coast of Spain; made to look like a British pilot, he will be carrying papers suggesting an Allied attack on Greece. When the papers fall to the Nazis, they'll swallow the bogus story
or will they? The film's final third tracks an Irish spy for the Axis (Steven Boyd, in one of his first roles) as he travels to London to investigate loose ends.
Clifton Webb gives a crisp, disciplined performance as Ewen Montagu, the officer in charge of the scheme. The film errs only in some melodrama involving Gloria Grahame, the histrionic roommate of an Intelligence worker. Other than that, director Ronald Neame brings his steady, classy approach to bear on a good yarn, and saves special grace for the treatment of the unfortunate dead man who unwittingly loaned his body to a stunt that saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. The film's final haunting shots capture the ethereal shiver of its title. --Robert Horton