Friday, March 25, 2011


As D-Day approaches, British Intelligence is trying to find a way to throw the Germans off the scent of the real plan--to invade along the northern coast of France--or to at least confuse them. One night, Major Harvey (John Mills) sees an Australian actor, M.E Clifton-James, impersonate Field Marshall Montgomery and gets a brilliant idea: hire the actor to impersonate Montgomery for real and have him take a tour of the British troops in North Africa, make sure the German spies know he’s there, and hope they’ll get the Nazis thinking that the invasion might come from the south instead. Harvey and his commanding officer (Cecil Parker) take the mild-mannered Clifton-James, try to toughen him up a bit, and have him spend some time observing Montgomery. Despite a few bumpy moments, the German spy (Marius Goring) bites and the ruse works; in fact, it works so well that the Nazis try to kidnap the actor, thinking he’s Montgomery.

This is mostly based on fact. Clifton-James, the actor who pulled it off, plays himself here (albeit almost fifteen years older) and gives a nicely understated performance. The first half lacks action but is nevertheless compelling as we see the plan hatched, developed, and put into place. The movie should end with the actor’s final major speech to the troops, but the filmmakers, apparently thinking some further tension was needed, added a totally fictional component, the kidnapping attempt, and it doesn’t really fit, playing out like an anti-climactic epilogue tacked on to flesh out the running time. Mills (pictured above, with Clifton-James on the left) actually bears the brunt of the acting burden and he’s quite good, as is Parker. The only other actor to make an impression, besides Goring (giving a nicely slimy performance, practically a cameo, as the spy), is Michael Hordern as the Governor of Gibraltar; he had a long career as a character actor, and may be most recognized as Marley in the Alistair Sim CHRISTMAS CAROL. It comes off almost as a TV movie, but it’s mostly quite enjoyable. [TCM]

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