As The Man Who Never Was aptly demonstrates, sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. While some dramatic liberties have been taken in putting this story on the screen, most of it is fact-based, even though it often seems farfetched. And there lies the problem with Man, a good espionage thriller that falls short of being a great one -- and falls short basically because the filmmakers confused realistic truth with cinematic truth. Because Man's story is so incredible, telling it in a very bald-faced, straight-ahead manner has the perverse effect of making it seem a bit contrived. Had director Ronald Neame treated it with a bit more artifice and imagination, it might have been less real, but it would have played more believably. Still, even with this flaw, Man is a film well worth seeing, and not just for espionage buffs. The intricacy of the plotting is intriguing, and when Stephen Boyd arrives to try to determine whether the whole plot is a ploy or not, things get delightfully tense. The cast, with the exception of Gloria Grahame, who is uncharacteristically off here, is a treat. Clifton Webb turns in a commanding change-of-pace performance that is quite impressive, and Boyd is excellent as the German spy. Robert Flemyng is a perfect foil for Webb, and Josephine Griffin's quiet portrayal is highly effective. Wrapped up in Oswald Morris' evocative Cinemascope camerawork, The Man Who Never Was packs a nice punch -- even if one wishes it were a solid knock-out.
by Craig Butler review