Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Twice Non-existent

In 1943, the British dropped a cadaver in the ocean off the coast of Spain as part of Operation Mincemeat. Dressed as a fictitious soldier named William Martin, the cadaver carried forged correspondence which successfully misled the Axis powers as to the location of a planned British assault in the Mediterranean. In 1956, a movie was made about it called The Man Who Never Was, an entertaining though not particularly impressive film, its inventions for the sake of drama being mild but still stretching the interesting historical operation slightly too thin.

Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame get top billing and are the only people in the movie with American accents, which is particularly incongruous for Webb as he plays Ewen Montagu, the real life English Naval officer who conceived Operation Mincemeat. Grahame plays the flatmate of Montagu's secretary and I suppose she could have been American though the role feels like it was written for someone English. Oh, and look who she's dating:

That's William Russell, a.k.a. Ian Chesteron, one of the Doctor's first companions on Doctor Who. He's looking so smug here because he got to kiss Gloria Grahame, the lucky bastard.

Grahame's character, Lucy, uses her real feelings about Russell's character to help her flatmate write phoney letters to the fictional William Martin. Despite sharing top billing with Webb, Grahame is hardly in the film at all, having really only two meaningful scenes. The second comes in the film's entirely invented final act where a German agent pretending to be an Irishman visits the flat shared by the two women and Grahame has to convince him of Martin's reality without actually knowing anything about the classified Operation Mincemeat--she thought she'd been helping her flatmate write a short story.

But most of the movie is a straight forward procedural as we follow Montagu and his subordinates going through the--many faithfully adapted from life--steps needed to procure a body, convincing documents, and personal effects, and deliver it all to the Axis without making it look like they were delivering it all to the Axis. Aside from Webb's distracting accent, this is fascinating to watch, almost like a dramatised documentary.

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