15 October 2005 | BlueGuild
A true-story war film that finds its mark
As the North African campaign of WWII drew to a close it became obvious that the Allies next move would be to invade Sicily. A deception was therefore needed to try to lure away some of the German defences. Inter-services "XX Committee" (XX for double-cross) members Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, and Squadron Leader Sir Archibald Cholmondley hatched the then unheard of plan of planting a body in the sea off Spain where prevailing currents would surely carry it inshore to the Huelva region, known to be the territory of one of the Nazis' best Spanish agents. The body, dressed as a major in the Royal Marines and apparently killed in a plane crash, would be carrying supposedly top secret documents aimed at convincing any reader that the invasion target was not Sicily at all, but Greece. Montagu himself plays a cameo role in the film as an Air Marshall.
The leading role of Montagu is played by Clifton Webb, utterly credible as a British naval officer, while Robert Flemyng, who had himself served conspicuously in WWII and who was awarded the Military Cross and Order of The British Empire, takes on the role of his junior assistant, a composite role based partly on Cholmondley's real-life character and partly on Montagu's real-life assistant.Together they must procure a body that will pass a medical examination to determine the cause of death and they must also create a personality and a past life and history for this man.
This is a true-story that avoids battle scenes and big bangs. There are no special effects. It describes a war of stealth and cunning and the cat and mouse game of espionage. It is an atmospheric suspense thriller with Stephen Boyd very effective as the determined Axis agent, Patrick O'Reilly, sent in from Ireland to verify the existence and past life of this man who never was. While the soundtrack is one of Alan Rawsthorne's (The Cruel Sea) better scores, it is nevertheless immediately recognizable as being one of his haunting compositions, unfortunately sounding so much like all his others. It is ably directed by the great and sometimes under-rated Ronald Neame. It is beautifully filmed, as are all of former-cameraman Neame's pictures. The voice of Churchill is provided by the young Peter Sellers who, at that time in 1956, was establishing his versatility and making a name for himself in the BBC radio comedy, "The Goon Show".
20th Century Fox's DVD video and sound quality are excellent, as would be expected in the studio release of one of their own productions.
A worthy and entertaining addition to any WWII film collection and if it gives you an appetite for a more in-depth recounting of the true story, Ewan Montagu's 1953 book is still available in both the hardback and paperback editions.