7 June 2005 | theowinthrop
Pity a poor wartime hero who needs money.
It is, I believe, the only time that those two silkiest voiced movie villains George Sanders and James Mason appeared together. Both occasionally played good guys (Sanders was Simon Templar, "the Saint", Mason was "Norman Main" in the Judy Garland A STAR IS BORN). Sanders would eventually win a deserved Oscar, but Mason (though repeatedly nominated) tied with fellow Briton Richard Burton for the most nominated actor who never got the Oscar. So they were well balanced, and managed to appear in this satire.
A bit of historical background. In 1955 a mystery occurred at Portsmouth naval base in England. A war hero, naval frogman - Commander Charles "Buster" Crabbe - disappeared while doing a routine dive in the bay. It turned out that a Russian naval craft was visiting Portsmouth (two Russian leaders were meeting the Prime Minister), and it was suspected that Crabbe might have been spying on it. But was he caught? Or did he defect? A body that was decomposed was found later that year, but was it Crabbe's? His fate was never actually settled.
It is this odd mystery that seems to be the germ for this comedy. Wartime hero Mason is in need of cash, as he is trying to beat out wealthy, snobby Sanders in a competition for Vera Miles. He starts noticing the worst aspect of the British press - it's outspokenness in making allegations "in pursuit of truth". He gets an idea. Suppose he acted mildly oddly for a few weeks. He has a highly sensitive military post, and he could (if he wished) give valuable information to the enemy (read the Russians). He might even defect. So he builds up a plausible appearance of approaching the Russians. Then he decides he will disappear while he is supposed to be on vacation. He arranges to disappear to an island, and hide there listening on a radio as the public is fed a diet of his apparent defection and treason. And he slowly realizes his plan is falling into place - he will bring a huge lawsuit against the various media for slander or libel on his reputation. Or will he get away with it, for while he is doing this one person noting his disappearance is suspicious. Sanders knows Mason, and he does not think him a traitor, nor does he trust him.
I won't spoil the end. It is a good comedy and things work out in crazy ways in this mad world. See the film and find out.