AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Man Who Never Was
Director: Ronald Neame (Dir)
Release Date:   Feb 1956
Production Date:   at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Boreham Wood, Elstree, England
Duration (in mins):   103
Duration (in feet):   9,270
Duration (in reels):   12
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Clifton Webb (Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu)  
    Gloria Grahame (Lucy Sherwood)  
    Robert Flemyng (Lt. George Acres)  
    Josephine Griffin (Pam)  
    Stephen Boyd (Patrick O'Reilly)  
    Laurence Naismith (Admiral Cross)  
    Geoffrey Keen (Gen. Nye)  
    Moultrie Kelsall (Father)  
    Cyril Cusack (Taxi driver)  
    Andre Morell (Sir Bernard Spilsbury)  
    Michael Hordern (Gen. Coburn)  
    Allan Cuthbertson (Vice-Admiral)  
    Joan Hickson (Landlady)  
    Terence Longden (Larry)  
    Gibb McLaughlin (Club porter)  
    Miles Malleson (Scientist)  
    William Russell (Joe)  
    William Squire (Lt. Jewell)  
    Richard Wattis (Shop assistant)  
    Brian Oulton (Willis officer)  
    Ronald Adam (Adams)  
    Peter Williams (Admiral Mountbatten)  
    Michael Brill (Doctor)  
    John Welsh (Bank manager)  
    Cecily Paget-Bowman (Secretary)  
    Robert Brown (French)  
    Everley Gregg (Club matron)  
    Lloyd Lamble (Passport officer)  
    Gordon Bell (Customs officer)  
    Wolf Frees (Admiral Canaris)  
    Gerhard Purtiz (German colonel)  
    D. A. Clarke-Smith (Laurence, Consul)  
    Ewen Montagu (Air vice-admiral)  

Summary: In London, in the spring of 1943, British Naval Intelligence ponders how to decoy German forces from the island of Sicily so that the British can launch their invasion there. To accomplish this, Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu devises an ingenious scheme to make the Germans believe that the British are deploying troops to Greece, hoping to lure the Germans there from Sicily. To trick the Germans, Ewen plans to use a dead body, dressed in an officer's uniform and carrying top secret documents ordering the invasion of Greece. When Montagu and his assistant, Lt. George Acres, decide to make the body appear as if it were drowned following an air crash at sea, a doctor advises that a victim of pneumonia would appear to have drowned because of the water accumulated in the lungs. Dubbed "Operation Mincemeat," the strategy slowly develops to float the body off the coast of Spain where the current will carry it to shore. The danger is that if the plan fails, the Germans will know that Sicily is the target of the invasion. Montagu impatiently waits permission from the top brass until Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally gives the go-ahead. The project hits a snag, however, because no suitable body can be found until Montagu convinces the grieving father of a Scotsman to allow him to use his dead son's pneumonia-wracked body for the good of Britain. The next step is to fabricate an identity for the young man, whom they christen Maj. William Martin. Deciding that a love letter and a photograph of Martin's fiancée would create a touch of authenticity, Montagu asks his secretary Pam to write the letter, which will be slipped in Martin's wallet. Pam is helped by her lovelorn roommate, Lucy Sherwood, whose fiancé Joe, a fighter pilot, has just left for combat. Proceeding to the morgue, Montagu and Acres plant Lucy's photo and letter in Martin's wallet, along with several other personal documents, then meticulously dress the body and attach a briefcase bearing the secret documents to his wrist. They then place the body in a refrigerated canister labeled "optical instruments" and transport it to the naval base. There the canister is loaded aboard a submarine and transported to the Spanish coast, where the corpse is set adrift. After the body washes ashore, it is found by fishermen, and Spanish police then notify the British Vice-Consul about the death of Maj. Martin. After the "major" is given a military funeral and interred in Spanish soil, his briefcase is returned to Britain, where all the documents appear to be intact. Montagu fears that his mission has failed until a scientist examines the sealed papers and declares that they have been opened and photographed. In Germany, meanwhile, an eager Hitler proclaims that the photocopied documents are genuine, but German Intelligence remains skeptical and so sends an agent to verify their authenticity. The German, posing as Irishman Patrick O'Reilly, arrives in London, with a radio transmitter hidden in the bottom of his suitcase along with the copies of Martin's papers. O'Reilly's first stop is the men's wear shop whose address appeared on a bill for shirts found in Martin's wallet. After ascertaining that the shop sells the kind of shirts worn by Martin, O'Reilly scrutinizes a bank overdraft made out to Martin and phones the bank, claiming to be Martin's representative. The bank manager, who has been alerted to the plan, promptly notifies Montagu about the call, who turns to Scotland Yard for help. Lucy, meanwhile, learns that Joe has been killed in combat and goes into a state of shock. O'Reilly next goes to Lucy's apartment but finds Pam there instead. Posing as Martin's boyhood friend, O'Reilly asks to see Lucy. Just then, Lucy comes home drunk and when O'Reilly questions her about her fiancé, she replies he is dead and therefore never existed. After Lucy breaks down in tears and begins to ramble incoherently, O'Reilly gives her his address in case she is need of consolation. After he leaves, Pam passes the address onto Montagu, who alerts Scotland Yard. The cunning O'Reilly, meanwhile, contacts his superiors with the news that he has given his location to the enemy to see if they will come to arrest him, a sure sign that the Martin story is fictitious. As Montagu and the men of Scotland Yard speed to O'Reilly's address, Montagu realizes that it is a set-up and convinces the officers to allow O'Reilly to escape. When the police fail to appear, O'Reilly confirms that Martin is genuine and the Germans dispatch their troops to Greece, clearing the way for the British invasion of Sicily. Awarded a medal for service to his country, Montagu travels to Martin's resting place in Spain and places it on his grave. 

Production Company: Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Ronald Neame (Dir)
  Gerry O'Hara (Asst dir)
Producer: André Hakim (Pres)
  André Hakim (Prod)
  Bob McNaught (Assoc prod)
Writer: Nigel Balchin (Scr)
Photography: Oswald Morris (Dir of photog)
  Arthur Ibbetson (Cam op)
Art Direction: John Hawkesworth (Art dir)
Film Editor: Peter Taylor (Ed)
Music: Alan Rawsthorne (Mus comp)
  Sinfonia of London (Played by)
  Muir Mathieson (Cond)
Sound: Winston Ryder (Dubbing ed)
  Basil Fenton-Smith (Sd mixer)
  J. B. Smith (Sd mixer)
Special Effects: Tom Howard (Photog eff)
Make Up: Harold Fletcher (Makeup)
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The Man Who Never Was by The Honorable Ewen Montagu (London, 1953).
Authors: Ewen Montagu

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Sumar Film Productions, Ltd. 31/12/1955 dd/mm/yyyy LP6944

PCA NO: 17582
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: De Luxe; Eastman
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope
  Lenses/Prints: lenses by Bausch & Lomb

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
 
Subjects (Major): Germany. Secret Service
  Great Britain. Intelligence Service
  Impersonation and imposture
  Invasions
  Letters
  Secret agents
  World War II
 
Subjects (Minor): Air pilots, Military
  Bankers
  Corpses
  Fathers and sons
  Grief
  Irish
  London (England)
  Roommates
  Scotland Yard (London, England)
  Secret documents
  Secretaries
  Spain
  Submarine boats

Note: The film opens with the image of a body washing up on shore. Over this image an offscreen narrator reads an excerpt from the Scottish ballad "The Battle of Otterburn": "Last night I dreamed a deadly dream/Beyond the Isle of Skye/I saw a dead man win a fight/And I think that man was I." This poem also closes the film. Onscreen credits end with the written disclaimer: "Military security and respect for a solemn promise have made it necessary to disguise the identity of some of the characters in this film, but in all other essentials this is the true story of 'Major William Martin'."
       According to a Feb 1954 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the rights to Ewen Montagu's novel, intending to have Nunnally Johnson script and produce the property. Montagu based his novel on a scheme he devised to deceive the Germans while he was a lieutenant commander in British Naval Intelligence. According to the Var review, the scene in which the body washes up on shore was filmed in Spain. Although the DV review states that the film used the De Luxe color process, the Var review states that the color process was Eastman Color. A Jun 1980 HR news item notes that British actor Peter Sellers provided the offscreen voice of Winston Churchill. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   11 Feb 1956.   
Daily Variety   10 Feb 56   p. 3.
Film Daily   10 Feb 56   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Feb 56   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jun 1980.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   18 Feb 56   p. 785.
New York Times   4 Sep 1955.   
New York Times   4 Apr 56   p. 24.
Variety   15 Feb 56   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.