The Man Who Never Was


1h 43m 1956
The Man Who Never Was

Brief Synopsis

British Intelligence during World War II is trying to get the German High Command to shift it's forces away from Italy prior to the invasion. To create the illusion of a plan for England to invade Greece a dead body is to be procured, allowed to be found with secret papers on him by Spanish authorities who will send the papers on to the Germans, or that's the plan. First they have to find a body that will look drowned, and create an identity for him that will pass the examination of the German agent who is sure to check him out. Based on a true story.

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1956
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; London, England, Great Britain; Spain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Man Who Never Was by The Honorable Ewen Montagu (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
9,270ft (12 reels)

Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1956
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Sumar Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; London, England, Great Britain; Spain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Man Who Never Was by The Honorable Ewen Montagu (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
9,270ft (12 reels)

Quotes

Monty, that parachute that didn't open... Suppose we were to drop a fellow out of a plane over enemy territory, with papers on him saying we were going to invade Greece, and his parachute didn't open. The Germans would find him dead, and the papers, and "Aha," they'd say, "Look at this. Officer with secret papers, parachute didn't open... they're going to invade Greece."
- Lieutenant George Acres
Do we tell the man who jumps that the parachute doesn't work, or is it a sort of practical joke that he finds out on the way down?
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Well, of course it would have to be somebody you didn't mind much about.
- Lieutenant George Acres
Are you volunteering? No, George, it wouldn't work.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
What about using a man already dead?
- Lieutenant George Acres
The autopsy would show he was dead before he hit the ground. Let's get back to the office and think again.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
You know, Monty, what we really want is something absolutely simple, the simpler the better.
- Lieutenant George Acres
Good boy, George, you're absolutely right.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Well, how about this: suppose we issue Greek dictionaries to all the troops. Why should we do that unless we intend to invade Greece? That would fool them.
- Lieutenant George Acres
I should make it Eskimo dictionaries. That would really fool them.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Suppose I wanted to put a dead body in the sea, and let it float ashore, and have it accepted by the people who find it as the victim of an air crash at sea. What sort of body would I need?
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
I can assure you that this is an opportunity for your son to do a great thing for England.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
My son, sir, was a Scotsman. Very proud of it.
- The Father
I beg your pardon?
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Never mind. We're used to that. You English always talk about England when you mean Britain.
- The Father
Now, about dates. There's got to be something on him that will show when he left. I think I can fix to get a receipted bill from the Naval and Military Club -- he stayed there on his last night.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
And he went to the theatre. Final celebration. He has the stubs of the tickets in his pocket.
- Lieutenant George Acres
Item: two theatre tickets.
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Make it four, and for something worth seeing.
- Lieutenant George Acres
And what's going on in that bright little mind?
- Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu
Well, we've got to buy the tickets anyway, and Willie can't use them -- we might as well! There are three of us already, and with Pam's alleged girlfriend...
- Lieutenant George Acres

Trivia

Ewen Montagu, the officer who was in charge of Operation Mincemeat, has a small cameo role as an air marshal.

Notes

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 February 1954 Hollywood Reporter 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 Variety review, the scene in which the body washes up on shore was filmed in Spain. Although the Daily Variety review states that the film used the De Luxe color process, the Variety review states that the color process was Eastman Color. A June 1980 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that British actor Peter Sellers provided the offscreen voice of Winston Churchill.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video June 27, 1991

Broadcast over SFM Holiday Network May 1990.

Released in United States Winter February 1956

Released in United States on Video June 27, 1991

Released in United States Winter February 1956