Stanley Baker stars in this above-average conspiracy thriller that boasts Bavarian locations, some neat twists and a first-rate supporting cast that includes: Peter Cushing as a sinister doctor; Mai Zetterling, in one of her last film acting roles, as a femme fatale who may be much more than she seems; Niall MacGinnis as an amiable insurance investigator; and Eric Porter and Nigel Green as a pair of less than friendly cops with their own secret agenda. So, what’s it about? Jazz pianist and composer Joe Newman (Baker) is told that his father, a Nazi officer reported dead on the Eastern Front in 1942, is in fact still alive. So he heads off to Germany …
Minna, the hotel maid: “I was wondering why you wear those dark glasses?”
Joe: “I got a bit of dirt in my eye – when I was a kid”
On his arrival, Newman is told that his father did survive the war, but unfortunately has only just died and been buried. He also learns that he had recently married a much younger woman (Zetterling), though whether this would make him a bigamist is never explored. Joe is unconvinced and goes to the grave and discovers he was buried a Catholic, despite his being a Protestant. He also learns that the only mourner was Maria Wienewski (Georgina Ward), a refugee at the camp overseen by Cushing. Joe tries to get the police involved, but the local Inspector and his brutish sergeant (Eric Porter and Nigel Green) are clearly not interested. Joe notices that he is being followed by Brenner, a guest at his hotel. He breaks into his room and finds an insurance policy in his father’s name. It turns out that it was Brenner who called him, suspicious that his father may still be alive and that this is all an insurance scam.
The film was based on a 7-part television serial, made by Lew Grade’s ATV company and originally broadcast on ITV in the Autumn of 1959 under their Suspense slot. The director was Quentin Lawrence, who also made the subsequent movie, and Nigel Green recreated his role as the violent local cop. Here are the details for the original TV broadcast in the London region:
- Episode 1: The Call (12 September 1959)
- Episode 2: The Grave (19 September 1959)
- Episode 3: The Gloves (26 September 1959)
- Episode 4: The Switch (3 October 1959)
- Episode 5: The Hunt (10 October 1959)
- Episode 6: The Clinic (17 October 1959)
- Episode 7: The Final Death (24 October 1959)
There are a couple of really impressive sequences in the film. The first, lasting a couple of minutes, has Joe sitting in a bar watching people dance as he goes over the events of the day – because he is a musician and a composer, in a way we are here shown the way he works, piecing various strands together, plucking out little soundbites like notes or fragments of a melody as he tries to put things together in his mind. Lawrence stages this very well, tracking very slowly in on Baker while regularly cutting to the gyrating limbs of the people on the dance floor. It is certainly the visual highpoint of the film. Much more obviously dramatic is the fairly overwrought sequence in which Joe insists that it was really Maria’s father who was buried in his father place and that the grave at the camp must be empty (you can watch the clip of this online, at the link below).
Mai Zetterling made several films in the UK at this time and does reasonably well given that she doesn’t have a whole lot to work with here – we know she is holding something back and eventually ends up pulling a gun on poor Joe, but there is more to the character and she does well in managing to bring this out. Shortly afterwards she would stop acting and become a director of distinctive if controversial films on difficult topics. Cushing is his usual smooth self in a nicely equivocal role. The film in fact does turns over the apple cart very nicely in the final section – having convinced us that Joe knows exactly what is going on, it turns out he has got everything wrong. Baker is rather stolid and humourless as Joe, wearing sunglasses in an effort to look more like a cool musician but instead coming across merely as a grumpy foreigner, which is a bit of a shame. I also found Philip Green’s score strident in the extreme and robs practically any moment of the film from any subtlety it might have had. Niall MacGinnis does very well however in a sympathetic and humorous role as an insurance investigator who gets Joe to stir the pot for him and Alfred Burke is great as always in a small role as the family chauffeur.
Even if the lead is a bit of a bore, this film is highly entertaining with a plot that keeps you watching, though admittedly it does get a bit repetitive in the middle before reaching a satisfying finish with some decent twists and a train climax. It also looks very good thanks to the ‘Scope cinematography of Stephen Dade, who together with AD BoB Porter, editor John Jympson and co-star Nigel Green would all reunite on Baker’s celebrated next film, the classic adventure Zulu.
DVD Availability: Network recently released in a barebones DVD with an anamorphic presentation from very good elements (but that could have benefitted from a better encoding at times).
The Man Who Finally Died (1963)
Director: Quentin Lawrence
Producer: Norman Williams
Screenplay: Louis Marks, Lewis Greifer (original TV serial)
Cinematography: Stephen Dade
Art Direction: Scott Macgregor
Music: Philip Green
Cast: Stanley Baker, Mai Zetterling, Peter Cushing, Nigel Green, Eric Porter, Georgina Ward, Niall MacGinnis, Barbara Everest, Alfred Burke, Brian Wilde