Anthony Asquith, son of Herbert Asquith the Liberal Prime Minister was one of the finest exponents of British literary cinema, an elegant craftsman who when it came to adapting original stage plays for the big screen was held in great esteem. A prime example of this directors work is Libel a 1959 adaptation of a 1935 play of the same name written by Edward Wooll, heard on the radio in 1941 and on BBC television as long ago as 1938. Anatole de Grunwald and Karl Tunberg wrote the films screenplay.
The original story was based at the aftermath of World War 1 but the movie changed this to World War 11. The film has a simple premise, the question of identity, is Sir Mark Loddon, a wealthy, privileged British aristocrat really who he claims to be? It’s when the young Canadian airman Jeffrey Buckenham (Paul Massie) see’s a TV programme on which Loddon and his American wife Lady Maggie (Olivia de Havilland) show Richard Dimbleby around their stately home (actually shot at Woburn Abbey). Buckenham is convinced that Loddon is really Frank Welney, a small time actor who resembles the aristocrat. The three men where prisoners of war and Buckenham was convinced that Mark Loddon had been killed during the attempted escape. Persuading a well-known newspaper to print an article exposing Loddon as a phoney the whole business is taken to court when Lady Maggie convinces her husband to sue both paper and his old war colleague. But Loddon has a problem; he has been suffering periodic spells of amnesia since his return from the war!
Again we get a fine performance from one of Britain’s greatest actors when Dirk Bogarde plays both Loddon and Welney suggesting the difference between the two characters remarkably well with only a slight difference in hair colouring and speech. Massie is a little wooden as the Canadian and De Havilland looks great in her Christian Dior dresses and has a couple of good scenes. If you look very carefully you will see Millicent Martin in only her second screen role and Robert Shaw in a walk on role as a newspaper photographer. I believe it got mixed reviews at the time of release and I can just remember seeing it with my mother, one scene I can recollect distinctly, gave a wee ten-year-old nightmares. Now there’s nothing to scare anyone any more, but it’s a film that’s well worth revisiting if only for Bogarde’s stand out performance.
|A nice publicity shoot of the two main leads.|