Monty’s Double C’est Moi

A number of good things about I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE. It never mentions Operation Mincemeat, but the events of the film are happening alongside those of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS, both plots concerning misleading Hitler about the proposed site of D Day. One worked by floating a dead body with fake documents off the coast of Franco’s Spain, the other by leaking the movements of a lifelike Field Marshal Montgomery impersonator recruited from the acting profession. And, weirdly, Clifton Webb, the star of the big-budget ‘Scope Deluxe Color Fox production, could have made a passable Monty or Monty Double himself. The filmmakers did consider hiring a movie star to play the part, before latching onto the genius idea of letting M.E. Clifton James, Montgomery’s actual real-life double and the author of the source memoir, play himself.

Given that, it’s a terrible shame they didn’t also cast the real intelligence officer who recruited James — David Niven. The idea MUST have been considered. I don’t know whether Niv was unaffordable, unavailable, or didn’t want to take part in a travesty. It would have elevated the film enormously, though his chum John Mills is excellent in the part.

Cecil Parker makes everything good.

Supposedly, the film is fairly true to life, except for the invention out of whole cloth of an action climax where the Nazis try to kidnap the ersatz Monty. This is the sequence where director John Guillermin pulls out all the stops, which mainly involves suspenseful tracking shots depicting POV and reaction of various characters, putting the audience right in there. Too bad none of it happened. It feels stylish yet inauthentic as you watch it, partly because the rest of the movie has yielded to, or embraced, the difficulties of the true-life adventure: moving in fits and starts, introducing and dropping a myriad of characters (where a fictioneer would have combined several into one), which does however allow plenty of room for beloved British character thesps. Also, the rest of the movie is played, and scored (by John Addison), as light comedy.

I don’t know if James’ memoir included all the stuff about stage fright and other bits tending to make fun of the acting profession, or at least having fun with the conjunction of war, espionage and acting. Screenwriter Bryan Forbes might be responsible for some of that.

I’m inclined to credit much of the visual panache of Guillermin’s most striking film, RAPTURE, to its French camera department, just because nothing else in his career seems to account for it. Elsewhere, he alternates weirdly between vigour and flair and living down to Welles’ characterisation of him as “one of the truly great incompetents.” His sadism comes through in a bit where a soldier gets shot and blood splashes the guy’s face — from a completely impossible angle. Guillermin obviously liked this bit so much (wrongly), he recycled it in EL CONDOR.

The next Guillermin film I watch will either be THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN, because I have it, or THE TOWERING INFERNO, because I haven’t seen it since it’s first UK TV airing and I have next to no memory of it. How bad could it be? Don’t answer that.

Oh — apologies are due to Duncan Lamont — he’s disappointing in this but I was forgetting about his amazing turn in the first TV Quatermass. Unforgiveable.

I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE stars Monty’s Double; Professor Bernard Quatermass; The Major; Rex Van Ryn (voice, uncredited); The Sorting Hat; Grapple of the Bedou; Conductor 51: Mrs. Terrain; Victor Carroon; Mr. Kipling; Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond; Buller Bullethead; Midnight; Arnold Bedford; Milchmann; Bryce Mercer; Shagal, the Inn-Keeper; Sgt. Wilson; General Gogol; Jelly Knight; The Malay; Tanya; Victor Maitland; and Turk Thrust.

11 Responses to “Monty’s Double C’est Moi”

  1. David Melville Wingrove Says:

    Have you seen John Guillermin’s 1956 Spanish melodrama THUNDERSTORM? That has some striking camerawork too. I think I wrote a Forbidden Divas about it some years ago – even though it was stretching it severely to put Linda Christian in that category. I just loved the film and seized on any excuse to write about it.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    (and Spam)

  3. chris schneider Says:

    The “Monty Python’s Double” is marked “blocked on copyright grounds.”

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I recently looked at two of Guillermin’s films — Never Let Go (a really good British gangster film with Peter Sellers as a compelling and credible villain) and Guns at Batasi! (which has interesting stuff but is otherwise a compromised colonialist’s view of post-colonialism, centered on white people as protagonists of reality).

    Visually both are compelling and dramatically, especially Never Let Go, really has a lot of insight on psychology of British people.

  5. David W, I dimly recall seeing Thunderstorm. I think it was like other Guillermins in having very strong BITS.

    Never Let Go is indeed a corker, with a truly terrifying villain played by Peter Sellers. And Richard Todd is very well-used.

    Guns at Batasi benefits from really nice widescreen compositions – I give credit to operator Gerry Fisher (in Britain, the camera operator set up the shot and often had more to do with the framing than director or cinematographer). Fisher went on to be a great DP himself.

  6. I was shocked and delighted to find Never Let Go recommended in my YouTube feed this morning, and in a good print at that.

  7. Fiona Watson Says:

    Funnily enough, this Goon Show episode has a Peter Seller’s character complaining bitterly about the constant casting of John Mills and Richard Attenborough.

  8. There’s another Todd film which seems very similar, The Very Edge, but in that one he’s out for revenge because his wife is raped. Whereas Never Let Go’s premise, a stolen car, is much more original and revealing.

  9. John Guillermin wrecked my childhood in wonderful ways with King Kong and, later, because I watched it on television well after it was made, Towering Inferno. If my childhood memories serve, the guy understands SCALE.

  10. One the one hand, having just been deafened by The Bridge at Remagen with its wild helicopter shots, yes. One the other hand, since he films Kong’s feet approaching from the eye-level of an average human, no. That’s what I mean when I say he’s uneven.

    I just worked out what should have been done with De Laurentiis’ demand for a full-size Kong. Build a big statue that blinks, and use the money saved on hydraulics elsewhere. Also, force Rambaldi to get together with Rick Baker so the two Kongs match.

    (Guillermin’s helicopter shots would have been well-employed on the big robot Kong, but I can’t recall anything that actually makes it seem life-size.)

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