Wednesday, August 02, 2006


This fact-based drama about a World War II espionage operation is more interesting than compelling, and its quasi-documentary style will probably seem almost quaint in the post-James Bond era, but it's worth seeing. In the spring of 1943, the British are planning an invasion of Sicily; the Germans suspect as much and British Intelligence needs to come up with a plan to divert German forces away from the invasion site. Clifton Webb comes up with an ingenious idea: plant false plans on a dead body, indicating that the Allies plan to attack Greece, and have the corpse wash up where it would come to the attention of high-ranking Nazis. We watch Webb and his associates plan out every detail of the plot, called Operation Mincemeat. They find a young man in a hospital freshly dead of pneumonia, get his father's permission to use the body in the service of the war effort (though they can't tell him how his son is being used), and put the corpse in a dry ice container. Next they create an identity, naming him William Martin and planting personal effects on the body including a love letter written by Webb's secretary (Josephine Griffin) in addition to official letters indicating Greece as the invasion spot. The cat-and-mouse game begins when a submarine crew lets the container go in the sea off of Spain. The Germans' attention is indeed drawn by the discovery; after the body is buried and the British consulate asks for the belongings, the orders are returned, seemingly unopened, which could mean the Germans didn't take the bait, but scientific examination shows that the envelope was opened at the German consulate. However, the real suspense is just beginning: the Germans, suspecting something may be up, send a spy (Stephen Boyd) to England to dig up info about Martin, leading to some very tense scenes involving Gloria Grahame, Griffin's roommate, who has just lost a boyfriend in the war and winds up being instrumental to the fate of the plan. Webb is OK though he never feels very military, or even clever enough to mastermind the tricky plot. Most of the other actors (including Robert Flemyng, Cyril Cusack, and Michael Hordern) are very cut-and-dried in manner, appropriate to the "docudrama" feel of the film, but Boyd and Grahame are quite good at generating tension in the last 15 minutes. Apparently, most, if not all, of the last part of the film is fiction, but it really makes the movie work. [FMC]

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