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20th Century Fox presents
The Man Who Never Was (1956)

Cross: In over 30 years of intelligence work, I've never heard of anything like it.
Montagu: Neither have the Germans.
Cross: It's the most outrageous, disgusting, preposterous, not to say barbaric idea. But work out full details and be on hand at the war cabinet office at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon.

- Lawrence Naismith, Clifton Webb

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: June 06, 2005

Stars: Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame
Other Stars: Robert Flemyng, Josephine Griffin, Stephen Boyd
Director: Ronald Neame

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 024543173236
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+B+ D

DVD Review

When you have a film depicting an event in which the outcome is already known, it helps to have a gripping story, well told. Both of those qualities are present in the World War II suspense drama, The Man Who Never Was, ably directed by Ronald Neame. The DVD is devoid of extras, but this films is worth a look, particularly for fans of WWII and espionage films.

The Man Who Never Was is based on the true story of a British intelligence plan to make the Nazis think the British would not go through Sicily when invading southern Europe in 1943. To this end, Lieutenant Commander Evan Montagu (Clifton Webb) is charged with devising a scheme that will fool the Nazis and make the eventual invasion that much easier. Montagu and his subordinate, Lieutenant George Akers (Robert Flemyng), cook up an unlikely plot: they will outfit a dead body in British military uniform and put on his person letters that indicate the "true" British target, and not Sicily. Their immediate problems come in trying to get official approval of the plan, and once that is obtained, an even more difficult hurdle: obtaining a corpse that fits the needed profile to fool any medical examination.

The corpse they snag is revealed to be that of a young Scotsman, and Montagu is embarrassed when the dead man's father rebukes Montagu for speaking of how important the corpse is for England's war effort, rather than speaking of Britain as a whole. Speaking of national identities, Montagu gives the dead man a Welsh identity, and the only depiction of the Irish comes in the form of the two Nazi operatives seen later in the film (and the landlady that puts one of them up), who make a point of their hatred of the English. Suggesting the Irish were traitors as a group is probably not the message the film intended to send, but one might take it that way if so inclined.

The film carefully weaves its way through the steps needed to set up the fictitious Major William Martin, and even though we know what the end result of the story is going to be, everything is done with detail and care, leaving us awaiting the next step. A solid hour of the film's running time is devoted to plan preparations, but it never feels excessive. The most suspenseful portion of the picture comes after the body has been deployed, and the Nazis send an Irish operative, Patrick O'Reilly (Stephen Boyd), to check up on Martin's background. Not having read Montagu's book about the operation, I am unaware if the element of the plot involving Lucy Sherwood (Gloria Grahame) actualy happened, but it comprises the corniest and most predictable part of the picture and is really the only major weak spot in the film.

You could argue that Montagu, as played by Webb, is a cold fish without personality, but his dedication to duty brings much of that about. Montagu's aloofness contrasts nicely with Akers' cheekiness, though. The performances are excellent across the board, with Boyd superb as the smiling, yet subtly threatening spy. As I mentioned before, Grahame's character is the weak link and generally aggravated me throughout the film.

Director Neame's stylistic choices smoothly coincide with the cool, precise nature of the story. He uses fairly long takes, and rarely wastes his edits. It gives the film an observational , documentary quality suited to the material. Alan Rawsthorne's score is similarly restrained, subtly underlining the story rather than telling us what to think. It includes some nice touches, like the staccato flute notes doubling O'Reilly's Morse code messages to Germany.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Shot in Cinemascope, The Man Who Never Was fills its 2.55:1 frame quite nicely, and the transfer on this disc brings it across well. The drab color scheme fits a nation at war. The source used is generally clean and in good shape. Otherwise, I can't say I noticed any edge enhancement, and blacks appeared quite solid. A decent if unspectacular transfer. Also provided, for those who find it necessary, is a fullscreen transfer of the film, which is advised against, given the 'Scope compositions.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Two English options are on the disc, 4.0 surround and mono. With the surround track, you get a slightly fuller sounding experience, but the mono is pleasing as well. You can't go too wrong with either one. Also provided are French and Spanish mono tracks. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are present as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The rather melodramatic trailer (01m:36s) is the only extra here, hardly a surprise given the low profile of the film. I was certainly interested in learning more about the story, and would have liked to see some kind of featurette about it, but the presentation of the film is otherwise quite satisfactory. The only other drawback to this release is the bland cover art, which features Webb in a civilian suit, staring at the sky. It provides no indication of what lies within. Surely the original poster art was not this bad?

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An absorbing World War II epsionage tale, The Man Who Never Was will fly under most people's radar, but it's a film well worth investigating. The DVD is essentially extras-free, but the film is provided a solid transfer.


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