The Man Who Never Was (1956)

103 mins | Drama | February 1956

Director:

Ronald Neame

Writer:

Nigel Balchin

Producer:

André Hakim

Cinematographer:

Oswald Morris

Editor:

Peter Taylor

Production Designer:

John Hawkesworth

Production Company:

Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Full page view
HISTORY

The film opens with the image of a body washing up on shore. Over this image an offscreen narrator reads an excerpt from the Scottish ballad "The Battle of Otterburn": "Last night I dreamed a deadly dream/Beyond the Isle of Skye/I saw a dead man win a fight/And I think that man was I." This poem also closes the film. Onscreen credits end with the written disclaimer: "Military security and respect for a solemn promise have made it necessary to disguise the identity of some of the characters in this film, but in all other essentials this is the true story of 'Major William Martin'."
       According to a Feb 1954 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the rights to Ewen Montagu's novel, intending to have Nunnally Johnson script and produce the property. Montagu based his novel on a scheme he devised to deceive the Germans while he was a lieutenant commander in British Naval Intelligence. According to the Var review, the scene in which the body washes up on shore was filmed in Spain. Although the DV review states that the film used the De Luxe color process, the Var review states that the color process was Eastman Color. A Jun 1980 HR news item notes that British actor Peter Sellers provided the offscreen voice of Winston ... More Less

The film opens with the image of a body washing up on shore. Over this image an offscreen narrator reads an excerpt from the Scottish ballad "The Battle of Otterburn": "Last night I dreamed a deadly dream/Beyond the Isle of Skye/I saw a dead man win a fight/And I think that man was I." This poem also closes the film. Onscreen credits end with the written disclaimer: "Military security and respect for a solemn promise have made it necessary to disguise the identity of some of the characters in this film, but in all other essentials this is the true story of 'Major William Martin'."
       According to a Feb 1954 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the rights to Ewen Montagu's novel, intending to have Nunnally Johnson script and produce the property. Montagu based his novel on a scheme he devised to deceive the Germans while he was a lieutenant commander in British Naval Intelligence. According to the Var review, the scene in which the body washes up on shore was filmed in Spain. Although the DV review states that the film used the De Luxe color process, the Var review states that the color process was Eastman Color. A Jun 1980 HR news item notes that British actor Peter Sellers provided the offscreen voice of Winston Churchill. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Feb 1956.
---
Daily Variety
10 Feb 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
10 Feb 56
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 1980.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Feb 56
p. 785.
New York Times
4 Sep 1955.
---
New York Times
4 Apr 56
p. 24.
Variety
15 Feb 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
MUSIC
Mus comp
Played by
SOUND
Dubbing ed
Sd mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Photog eff
MAKEUP
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Man Who Never Was by The Honorable Ewen Montagu (London, 1953).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
February 1956
Production Date:
at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Boreham Wood, Elstree, England
Copyright Claimant:
Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
31 December 1955
Copyright Number:
LP6944
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe; Eastman
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
lenses by Bausch & Lomb
Duration(in mins):
103
Length(in feet):
9,270
Length(in reels):
12
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17582
SYNOPSIS

In London, in the spring of 1943, British Naval Intelligence ponders how to decoy German forces from the island of Sicily so that the British can launch their invasion there. To accomplish this, Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu devises an ingenious scheme to make the Germans believe that the British are deploying troops to Greece, hoping to lure the Germans there from Sicily. To trick the Germans, Ewen plans to use a dead body, dressed in an officer's uniform and carrying top secret documents ordering the invasion of Greece. When Montagu and his assistant, Lt. George Acres, decide to make the body appear as if it were drowned following an air crash at sea, a doctor advises that a victim of pneumonia would appear to have drowned because of the water accumulated in the lungs. Dubbed "Operation Mincemeat," the strategy slowly develops to float the body off the coast of Spain where the current will carry it to shore. The danger is that if the plan fails, the Germans will know that Sicily is the target of the invasion. Montagu impatiently waits permission from the top brass until Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally gives the go-ahead. The project hits a snag, however, because no suitable body can be found until Montagu convinces the grieving father of a Scotsman to allow him to use his dead son's pneumonia-wracked body for the good of Britain. The next step is to fabricate an identity for the young man, whom they christen Maj. William Martin. Deciding that a love letter and a photograph of Martin's fiancée would create a touch of authenticity, Montagu asks his secretary Pam ... +


In London, in the spring of 1943, British Naval Intelligence ponders how to decoy German forces from the island of Sicily so that the British can launch their invasion there. To accomplish this, Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu devises an ingenious scheme to make the Germans believe that the British are deploying troops to Greece, hoping to lure the Germans there from Sicily. To trick the Germans, Ewen plans to use a dead body, dressed in an officer's uniform and carrying top secret documents ordering the invasion of Greece. When Montagu and his assistant, Lt. George Acres, decide to make the body appear as if it were drowned following an air crash at sea, a doctor advises that a victim of pneumonia would appear to have drowned because of the water accumulated in the lungs. Dubbed "Operation Mincemeat," the strategy slowly develops to float the body off the coast of Spain where the current will carry it to shore. The danger is that if the plan fails, the Germans will know that Sicily is the target of the invasion. Montagu impatiently waits permission from the top brass until Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally gives the go-ahead. The project hits a snag, however, because no suitable body can be found until Montagu convinces the grieving father of a Scotsman to allow him to use his dead son's pneumonia-wracked body for the good of Britain. The next step is to fabricate an identity for the young man, whom they christen Maj. William Martin. Deciding that a love letter and a photograph of Martin's fiancée would create a touch of authenticity, Montagu asks his secretary Pam to write the letter, which will be slipped in Martin's wallet. Pam is helped by her lovelorn roommate, Lucy Sherwood, whose fiancé Joe, a fighter pilot, has just left for combat. Proceeding to the morgue, Montagu and Acres plant Lucy's photo and letter in Martin's wallet, along with several other personal documents, then meticulously dress the body and attach a briefcase bearing the secret documents to his wrist. They then place the body in a refrigerated canister labeled "optical instruments" and transport it to the naval base. There the canister is loaded aboard a submarine and transported to the Spanish coast, where the corpse is set adrift. After the body washes ashore, it is found by fishermen, and Spanish police then notify the British Vice-Consul about the death of Maj. Martin. After the "major" is given a military funeral and interred in Spanish soil, his briefcase is returned to Britain, where all the documents appear to be intact. Montagu fears that his mission has failed until a scientist examines the sealed papers and declares that they have been opened and photographed. In Germany, meanwhile, an eager Hitler proclaims that the photocopied documents are genuine, but German Intelligence remains skeptical and so sends an agent to verify their authenticity. The German, posing as Irishman Patrick O'Reilly, arrives in London, with a radio transmitter hidden in the bottom of his suitcase along with the copies of Martin's papers. O'Reilly's first stop is the men's wear shop whose address appeared on a bill for shirts found in Martin's wallet. After ascertaining that the shop sells the kind of shirts worn by Martin, O'Reilly scrutinizes a bank overdraft made out to Martin and phones the bank, claiming to be Martin's representative. The bank manager, who has been alerted to the plan, promptly notifies Montagu about the call, who turns to Scotland Yard for help. Lucy, meanwhile, learns that Joe has been killed in combat and goes into a state of shock. O'Reilly next goes to Lucy's apartment but finds Pam there instead. Posing as Martin's boyhood friend, O'Reilly asks to see Lucy. Just then, Lucy comes home drunk and when O'Reilly questions her about her fiancé, she replies he is dead and therefore never existed. After Lucy breaks down in tears and begins to ramble incoherently, O'Reilly gives her his address in case she is need of consolation. After he leaves, Pam passes the address onto Montagu, who alerts Scotland Yard. The cunning O'Reilly, meanwhile, contacts his superiors with the news that he has given his location to the enemy to see if they will come to arrest him, a sure sign that the Martin story is fictitious. As Montagu and the men of Scotland Yard speed to O'Reilly's address, Montagu realizes that it is a set-up and convinces the officers to allow O'Reilly to escape. When the police fail to appear, O'Reilly confirms that Martin is genuine and the Germans dispatch their troops to Greece, clearing the way for the British invasion of Sicily. Awarded a medal for service to his country, Montagu travels to Martin's resting place in Spain and places it on his grave. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.