Movie Mirrors Index

The Man Who Never Was

(1956 c 103')

En: 5 Ed: 6

This true story about a British intelligence operation to fool the Axis powers that Sicily is not their next target is based on the book by Ewen Montagu.

         At London in the spring of 1943 Prime Minister Churchill announces that their victories are changing the war. Admiral Cross (Laurence Naismith) tells Lt. Commander Ewen Montagu (Clifton Webb) that the invasion of Sicily is being planned and needs to be a surprise to save lives.

         Montagu and Lt. George Acres (Robert Flemying) watch parachutes descending from planes. Acres suggests they could put false plans to invade Greece on a man whose parachute does not open in order to fool the enemy; but Montagu says they would know if the body had been dead too long.

         In the office Acres suggests something simple. Montagu asks his secretary Pam (Josephine Griffin) for the records on tides and currents, and she goes out.

         Pam goes home and finds Lucy Sherwood (Gloria Grahame) with Joe (William Russell), who was playing the piano. Joe asks Lucy why she does not have her own place, and he kisses her. She tells him to go and asks him to call. He leaves. Pam says Lucy may fall in love with a pilot, but Lucy denies she will.

         Montagu and Acres meet with Bernard Pilsbury (André Morell). Montagu asks him about putting a dead body in the sea that would be found by the enemy. Pilsbury suggests a body that died of pneumonia and advises them how to preserve the body for days by refrigeration.

         Montagu tells Admiral Cross the idea of putting a dead body in the sea off the coast of Spain with documents describing an attack on Greece, and he explains its advantages. Cross calls it outrageous but encourages him.

         At a meeting of top officers they consider all the ways it could wrong and never get to the enemy. Montagu says there could be personal letters from these officers to make it seem real. Outside Montagu tells Acres to get a body, and Montagu will arrange for a canister.

         Some pilots on a runway talk about a flyer who was killed in a crash. Joe calls Lucy and tells her he is all right.

         Montagu gets a call from General Nye, who orders him to meet with the Prime Minister tomorrow morning. Montagu waits in a room. General Nye (Geoffrey Keen) and Admiral Cross come out of a meeting with Churchill who orders the plan implemented. Nye orders Montagu to sail to Malta.

         In the office Acres tells Montagu that it is too hard to get a body. Pam tells them she knows of one they may use. They go to the hospital. Montagu asks the father for permission, and he promises him that it is worthy and respectful. The father agrees to let them use the body.

         Montagu chooses the name William Martin, and he discusses with Acres and Pam the things they need. Acres asks Pam to write a love letter for him to carry.

         At night Joe comes to say goodbye to Lucy and kisses her before he goes. Lucy goes in and tells Pam she has news. Pam is working on the letter, and Lucy offers to help her. Lucy begins dictating a letter describing how she misses him, why he bought a ring, and how it makes her feel. She prays to God to take care of him and says she loves him. Lucy leaves the room, and Pam is moved. Lucy lays down and looks at her engagement ring.

         Pam tells Montagu that Lucy wrote the letter for her, and he confirms that she did it “just for fun.” Acres asks for Lucy’s photograph for the man’s pocket. Montagu also suggests theater tickets, and they plan to go with Lucy.

         General Nye reads to Montagu the letter he wrote about their plan to attack Greece while trying to make the enemy think they are planning to attack Sicily. Montagu has him fold it and put it in an envelope, and Montagu keeps his own fingerprints off it.

         Montagu and Acres go to Mr. Adams who has prepared the body. Wearing gloves they put clothes on the body with other objects. Adams puts dry ice in the canister. They go over the items in the wallet and put in personal letters and ticket stubs. Adams fastens the trench coat and the “Mae West.” They put important papers and letters in a leather briefcase and lock it. Montagu says Major Martin is ready to go to war. They carry the canister out and put it in a truck. Acres and Montagu drive the truck to a Navy base. The canister is put on a boat and taken to a submarine. They have a cover story about the canister for the crew. The submarine goes out to sea.

         At the theater Acres, Lucy, and Pam laugh, but Montagu is serious. During intermission Montagu suggests a toast to the major.

         On the submarine the crew listens as they are being attacked. They get close to the coast, and the captain sees fishermen. At night the submarine surfaces. The canister is brought up to the deck and is opened. A life raft is opened, and they unwrap the body. The captain says a burial prayer, and they release the body into the water. A homing pigeon is released also.

         In the morning a fisherman sees a body washed ashore. A crowd watches as a man examines the body. The briefcase is handed to a Spanish naval officer. The corpse is put on a stretcher and carried through the town, followed by people. The officer refuses to hand over the briefcase.

         Montagu gets a secret call from Admiral Cross who says the British consulate is trying to get the body. Cross says they should encourage that as standard procedure, and Montagu says he will put Martin’s name on the casualty list.

         Cross, Montagu, and Acres examine what was returned. They asks for a scientific opinion to see if the letter was opened and closed again. The technician says it was opened and probably photographed. They say their Operation Mincemeat has been swallowed whole.

         German intelligence officers discuss whether the plans and papers are genuine. The officer suggests they have someone ask questions in London to see if there was such a man.

         Patrick O’Reilly (Stephen Boyd) arrives in London and goes through customs. He asks a taxi driver (Cyril Cusack) to drive him to an address. They use word codes, and the taxi driver gives him instructions. O’Reilly asks a lady about a room for him, and she takes him upstairs. She warns him to be careful about the blackout. In his suitcase is a radio transmitter and a pistol. He sets it up and sends a message.

         O’Reilly goes into a clothing store and orders new khaki shirts, and he asks about the ones they sold to Martin recently. The salesman shows him the type Martin bought. O’Reilly goes to the Naval and Military Club and asks about Major William Martin and says he is a marine; but the man finds a W. Martin in the R. A.

         A secretary tells her boss that Mr. Phillips is making an inquiry about Major Martin. He has the call traced and talks to O’Reilly who says he is Phillips and agrees to come in and meet him. Montagu asks the bank officer about the call.

         Montagu talks to Acres and goes to talk with General Coburn (Michael Hordern) at Scotland Yard to see if there is a weak link. Montagu asks him for some men, and Coburn cooperates. Acres asks Montagu if the man suspects anything. Montagu says he cannot afford to show himself.

         O’Reilly goes upstairs and knocks on a door. Lucy gets a call from Larry, and she learns that he is gone. She says he was a good flyer. O’Reilly watches as Pam comes home and goes in and calls to Lucy. Suddenly she sees O’Reilly and is frightened. He says he is a friend of Willy Martin, and he would like to talk with his fiancée. She says Lucy is out. He asks if she is upset, and he offers to help and leaves his address. Pam writes it down. Lucy comes in, and O’Reilly asks if she is Lucy Sherwood. Pam says he is inquiring about Willie Martin. Lucy says he does not exist because he is dead. Lucy says she will never wear his ring and cries. Lucy says she only knew him for three months. Pam advises Lucy to go to bed. Lucy cries and asks them to leave her alone. O’Reilly leaves. Pam makes a call.

         In his room O’Reilly uses his radio to transmit that Martin is probably real. He says he has revealed his identity to the enemy. He says confirmation will come in one hour. If he is arrested, Martin is false.

         Montagu, Acres, and a police detective go to Pam, and Montagu questions her. She says he believed Lucy. Montagu decides to go to his address, and they go in two cars. O’Reilly waits with his door open. He hears cars arrive and turns off his light and opens the curtain. Montagu asks why he would give a phony address. He tells Acres to stop the car. Montagu says he is certain he is there, and he tells the detective not to have him arrested. General Coburn wants his orders carried out. Montagu explains that his arresting one spy could cost them to lose thirty thousand men. Coburn yields to him, but his men surround the place and wait for his orders.

         Inside a restaurant Montagu asks the police chief not to touch him because it could expose the operation. O’Reilly closes his door, looks out the window, and transmits by radio that Martin is genuine. Germans order their forces away from Sicily, which is soon attacked.

         In a ceremony Montagu is given a medal. Montagu makes sure that the father’s son has a Christian burial, and he puts his medal with the flowers on the grave of William Martin.

         This spy drama shows in detail the methods the British used to make something appear real and get the Germans to believe what is actually false. The violence of war is made more effective by using secrecy and subterfuge to gain advantage over the enemy. In this case the more evil side in the war is put at a disadvantage.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

Movie Mirrors Index

BECK index