A few months prior to D-Day in 1944, British intelligence, MI5, found that M. E. Clifton James had more than a passing semblance to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. They decided to put that to use.
On the pretext of making a film, Major Harvey, John Mills (“Great Expectations”, “Hobson’s Choice”), sent for James, who plays himself in the film, to asses whether Operation Copperhead could work.
Together with Colonel Logan, Cecil Parker (“The Lady Vanishes”, “Sherlock Holmes (TV)”), they hatch a plan to use James as a double for Montgomery to try and put the Germans off the scent of when and where D-Day would be occurring.
They sent James, now acting as Montgomery, down to North Africa and made it an ‘open secret’ that he was there inspecting troops. He toured for a while, all to get the Germans to focus there, rather than France.
In terms of an operation, it’s not totally clear exactly what affect Operation Copperhead had on the war. Whilst it appears Germany believed that James was Montgomery, they are also thought to have believed it to be a ruse and never fully thought the British were going to attack from North Africa.
In the film it goes a step further as the German’s send a commando unit to take James/Montgomery and hold back a large number of troops and tank division just in case.
As for the film, it is packed with a number of British stars from the fifties and sixties. Besides Mills and Parker you also have Leslie Phillips (“Carry On Films”, “The Navy Lark”), Michael Hordern (“Where Eagles Dare”, “Paddington (TV)”), Marius Goring (“The Red Shoes”, “The Barefoot Contessa”), Duncan Lamont (“Quatermass And The Pit”, “The 39 Steps”), James Hayter (“Oliver!”, “The Pickwick Papers”), John Le Mesurier (“The Italian Job”, “Dad’s Army (TV)”) and Sidney James (“Carry On Films”).
The story is something you’d expect to come right out of Hollywood, or the British studios as it was then, but it is based on the real-life events of the time.
The Blu-Ray includes a Pathe short film about James and his look-a-like credentials. When you consider that James had never acted professionally before and the level of talent he is working alongside, he does a great job.
The transfer to 4k is a good one, they keep the film in black and white although as part of the extras you do get some of John Mills’ home movie footage, something he often did on set, which is silent but in colour. It was shot whilst they were in Gibraltar and shows the vibrancy and some surprising colours of the day.
Although the success of the operation on which the film is based is hard to gauge, the movie itself isn’t. It dates reasonably well and shows the remarkable lengths British Intelligence were willing to go to during the war.
6th June 2019
THE QUICK SELL
During World War II, a British actor impersonates Field Marshal Montgomery in order to confuse German intelligence.