The Man Who Never Was

On April 7, 2012 by Aaron Nolan

Film Cover

Do you fancy spy flicks? How about World War II era films where there are Nazis at every turn? Perhaps you just enjoy films from the Golden Age. Maybe, by chance, you also enjoyed the 1990s comedy flick Weekend At Bernie’s.

So, now you’re probably wondering what could spies, World War II and a random dead body who just so happens to be the life of the party have to do with each other?

The Man Who Never Was, (1956) directed by Ronald Neame and starring Clifton Webb, and Gloria Grahame, seems to combine these elements quite well and tells a fascinating story of an innovative, yet gruesome plan to use a human cadaver as a pawn in a grand game of military chess.

Based on a true story, the film depicts British intelligence as they formulate a plan to confuse the Nazi war machine by generating believable counter-intelligence by plucking a dead body from the morgue, dressing it up in military fatigues, planting fake top-secret documents and letters, and even photographs and love letters from a real girl. Later, the plan calls for the body to be dropped off the coast of Spain, and for the body to be “discovered,” by authorities.

The Nazis don’t immediately buy into the too-good-to-be-true war plans which simply fell into Hitler’s lap, however upon investigating the information, the Nazis swallow the plan and the ruse works.

The film is quite well made, however there are some flaws in the film which are difficult to overlook. The most noticeable flaw was the accent of the Nazi spy who comes to investigate the claims that this man indeed existed. He claims to be from Ireland, yet he sounds more like an American with a half-German accent. The thought that his accent would pass anywhere, especially in Britain is laughable. With an accent as terrible as his, he would have been arrested likely on the spot in war-time Britain.

Other than that the story does not sell itself short, and it tells the account with a degree of authenticity likely not paralleled at that time in cinema. Therefore, the story can only be criticized as much as life itself can be criticized.

Overall the film is a hit and the characters are believable.

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