Based on fact, THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS provides marvelous entertainment and not too few thrills. Webb is a British intelligence officer who conceives an elaborate hoax to outwit the Germans in WW II, gulling them into believing that the Allies intend to invade Greece, not Sicily, in 1943.
After receiving permission to go ahead with what the high command skeptically considers an impractical plan, Webb, his assistant Flemyng, and others locate the body of a young man, Kelsall's son, and preserve it while a fake identity is created. The dead man becomes "Major Martin," an intelligence
officer who carries not only military identification but other papers that establish the fact that he is a club member and has a bank account. Moreover--thanks to a suggestion of Griffin, another Webb aide--he has a fiancee and carries a love letter written to him by Griffin. Inside a briefcase
handcuffed to him is information that clearly spells out the details of an Allied invasion of Greece. To make the finding of this body less suspicious, Webb accompanies the preserved-in-dry-ice body on a submarine which surfaces off the coast of Spain; the body is left adrift to float in with the
tide near Huelva. Rightfully concluding that the Fascist regime would allow its German allies to inspect the corpse, the British soon learn that German intelligence has examined and copied everything found on the body, then returned every document to its rightful place before the Spanish turn the
effects over to the British, along with the body.
At first the British are uncertain as to whether or not the Germans will take the bait. They soon learn that Nazi intelligence is cautious but considering "Major Martin" to have been a real entity. The Germans send one of their top agents operating in England to check on the dead man. This clever
spy is Irishman Boyd who arrives in London and checks with the dead man's bank; the bank official contacts Webb and other British agents and Boyd is closely watched. He is seen going to the dead man's private club and inquiring about his membership. When he learns that the dead man is a member he
is almost persuaded, but he goes one bold step further, contacting the dead man's "girl friend." Here, however, he makes a mistake and meets the wrong girl, Grahame. She is really the right girl, since Griffin used her name in writing the letter but, when Griffin tries to impersonate her, things
get mixed up and Grahame returns home just when Boyd appears. Ironically, Grahame has just lost her fiancee in the war and is distraught to the point of hysteria. Boyd believes she truly has lost her fiance, "Major Martin," and goes to his short-wave radio to report the dead man as "genuine" to
his German masters. The Germans transfer whole divisions to the inactive Greek front, which allows the Allies to make a "soft" landing on Sicily. The fabulous ruse saves countless lives and, following the war, Webb visits the dead man's grave, placing a medal there. The final scene repeats the
first scene shown, a body washing ashore and an echoing voice saying: "Last night, I dreamt a dead man won the fight."
Neame's direction is faultless and the tension is maintained throughout this splendid film. Webb, who could often slip into super-sophistication or silly comedy, held a tight reign on his histrionics here and performed admirably. Boyd is a convincing spy, filled with guile and suspicion and, in
his bit part as the father of the dead man, Kelsall is excellent. Griffin is effective as Webb's aide, as is Flemyng, but Grahame--normally a superb actress--goes awry here, overacting to the point of embarrassment.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Based on fact, THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS provides marvelous entertainment and not too few thrills. Webb is a British intelligence officer who conceives an elaborate hoax to outwit the Germans in WW II, gulling them into believing that the Allies intend to inva… (more)