Man Who Never Was, The (1956)

The Man Who Never Was (1956), directed by Ronald Neame.

Before the Allied invasion of Sicily in WW2, the British stage an ingenious deception plan: plant false papers on a corpse which washes up in Spain, where the documents will then be turned over to the Germans. That part works, but the movie isn't over: the Germans aren't stupid. They need to check the story out, which means taking a secret investigation back to London, a tense and dangerous game for both sides.

This is a small war film made when memories were still fresh. The result is much better than I expected. We don't get many good deception plots and the meticulous attention to detail is very fine. It rises above the average by a realism that is more moving than many action pictures: today when someone says "I need a corpse" it's no problem, one is provided instantly. Back then, it's hard to find a body no one claims. When they have a suitable "volunteer" they must promise the dead man's father that the body will be treated with respect. Which they do, very seriously. The submarine crew even reads the burial-at-sea service.

We have an Anglo-American cast: at one time I know the British felt that their films would not draw US audiences without American stars and I suppose that is the reason. Clifton Webb's natural reserve suits his naval officer role. Stephen Boyd is a stone-cold Irish spy working for the Germans. I've always liked Gloria Grahame but since I read that she would stuff paper under her upper lip I can't help noticing and find it distracting. Her shiny makeup is strange here.

This is a fictionalization of the real story of Operation Mincemeat, which -- to my astonishment -- actually worked really well. So much so that when, later in the war, the Germans obtained real intelligence documents they refused to believe them, fearing more deception.

The bit about the Irish spy in London is pure fiction, but a worthy addition to the drama.

Lush sea-faring score. 2.55:1 aspect ratio, photographed by Oswald Morris.

My thumbnails are from the region 1 DVD. I see a region B Blu-ray is available in the UK.