I Was Monty's Double (film)

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I Was Monty's Double
I Was Monty's Double film poster.jpg
Directed byJohn Guillermin
Screenplay byBryan Forbes
Based onI Was Monty's Double
by M. E. Clifton James
Produced byMaxwell Setton at Walton Studios
CinematographyBasil Emmott
Edited byMax Benedict
Music byJohn Addison
Distributed byAssociated British-Pathé Limited
Release date
  • 21 September 1958 (1958-09-21)
Running time
99 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

I Was Monty's Double (aka Hell, Heaven or Hoboken) is a 1958 film made by Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).[1] It was directed by John Guillermin. The screenplay was adapted by Bryan Forbes from the autobiography of M. E. Clifton James, an actor who pretended to be General Montgomery as a decoy during the Second World War.


A few months before the D-Day landings during the Second World War, the British government decides to launch a campaign of disinformation; spreading a rumour that the landings just might take place at a location other than Normandy. The details of the operation (actually, there were several such operations) are handed to two intelligence officers, Colonel Logan (Cecil Parker) and Major Harvey (John Mills). They are initially unable to devise such a plan – but one night, Harvey sees an actor at a London theatre, putting on a convincing impression of General Bernard Montgomery.

Logan and Harvey discover that the actor is M. E. Clifton James (who plays himself in the film), a lieutenant stationed in Leicester with the Royal Army Pay Corps and that he was a professional actor in peacetime. He is called to London, on the pretext that he is to make a test for an army film, and a plan is devised that he should tour North Africa, impersonating "Monty".

'Jimmy' as Harvey calls him, is doubtful that he can carry off an impersonation of Montgomery, especially with his air of command, but with time running short and no options open to him, he agrees.

Disguised as a corporal, he spends some days at Montgomery's headquarters and learns to copy the general's mannerisms and style. After an interview with the general himself, he is sent off to tour North Africa.

Accompanied by Harvey, who has been 'promoted' to brigadier for his cover as Montgomery's aide-de-camp, "Jimmy" arrives at Gibraltar, where the governor, who has known the general for years, can't get over the likeness. To further foster the deception, a local businessman and known German agent, Karl Nielson (Marius Goring), is invited to dinner, knowing that he will spread the information. This happens quickly and their aeroplane is (unsuccessfully) attacked on leaving Gibraltar.

James and Harvey tour several places in North Africa and visit the troops. With only a few days to go before the landings, it is learned that the Germans have indeed been fooled and have kept large numbers of troops in the south, away from Normandy. His job done, James is put into "cold storage" at a heavily guarded villa on the coast.

But the Germans have been fooled more than Harvey realises. A team of German commandos are landed by submarine to kidnap 'Monty'. They kill his guards and are ready to embark with James, but Harvey gets wind of the kidnap and foils it at the last moment. They return quietly to London.


Comparison with book[edit]

The film broadly follows the account by James in his book of the same name, but according to James, there was no attempt to kidnap him. The German High Command did plan to have him killed, but Hitler vetoed the plan until he could be sure where the landings would actually take place.

Gibraltar was in reality a hotbed of German agents, and James/Montgomery was spied on by several operatives who were smuggled into Gibraltar specifically to discover what "Monty" was up to. James/Montgomery deliberately talked nonsense about non-existent operations and plans, in the hope that the spies would overhear and take such information seriously.

The intelligence officer who initially recruited James was David Niven, at that time serving as a lieutenant-colonel at the War Office.


When James agreed to impersonate Montgomery, he was never to mention it under army regulations. However, after Operation Copperhead was mentioned in the book My Three Years with Eisenhower, James asked for permission to write a book, which was granted.[2] The book was published in 1954.[3] In June 1956 it was announced film rights had been bought by Todon Productions, the company of Tony Owens and Donna Reed, based on England; the key executive there was Maxwell Setton, who had been a wartime executive officer. Todon wanted Laurence Olivier to play Montgomery and Stephen Watts was writing the treatment.[4][5] Frederic March was named as another possibility for the lead.[6] In mid June it was announced that Clifton James would play himself and Montgomery, with Olivier the leading choice for the other main role. Permission from Montgomery and the War Office was conditional upon script approval.[7] A deal was signed with Columbia to distribute.[8]

In August 1956 the film was listed on Todon's slate which also included Town on Trial, directed by John Guillermin and starring John Mills, who would make Monty's Double. Other films to be made included The Long Haul.[9] In September Michael Rennie was mentioned as a lead.[10]

In July 1957 it was announced Ken Hughes would direct.[11]

Producer Maxwell Setton took the film for Rank, who agreed to finance, but Sir John Davis, head of Rank, wanted Bryan Forbes' script vetted by head of production Earl St. John. Setton then took the project to Robert Clark at ABPC, who agreed to finance. Setton had to change the nationality of Marius Goring's spy character from Spanish to Swedish to enable the unit to film in Gibaltar.[12]

Newsreel footage puts the real Field Marshal Montgomery in many scenes, but "for a few key moments, James stands in for the real Monty."[13][N 1]

In January 1959 Associated British signed a deal with NTA for them to distribute this and Ice Cold in Alex in the US.[15]


The film was a success at the British box office.[16] James went on a tour to promote the film.[17]

Variety described it as "excellently acted and directed....the film has several moments of real tension. Even with a somewhat fictionalized ending, there is a documentary flavor about it which is absorbing. Plenty of-news footage has been woven into the pic and it has been done with commendable ingenuity. Bryan Forbes’ taut screenplay is liberally spiced with humor...James shows himself to be a resourceful actor in his own right... An extraordinary story told convincingly and compellingly."[18]

Film reviewer Stephen Vagg wrote that the film was "splendidly entertaining. The script was written by thespian-turned-scribe Bryan Forbes, and there’s some lovely "actor" character stuff in the film, eg. James thinking he’s being hired for a film role and bringing along a scrapbook of his reviews, James having last-minute nerves, James getting up on stage and worrying about blowing it."[19]

Stephen Watts, who was involved in the operation, thought James "played himself with great skill and distinction."[20]

When Montgomery saw the film at a London cinema, audiences outside reportedly assumed he was Clifton James.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

I Was Monty's Double inspired a Goon Show episode entitled "I was Monty's Treble", referring to at least 3 doppelgangers.[22]

The film was also spoofed in the comedy film On the Double, with Danny Kaye playing a double role.[citation needed]

The Private Eye comic strip, Battle for Britain was penned by Ian Hislop under the nom-de-plume Monty Stubble. When the comic strip ended, after the 1987 General Election and Stubble's death, his gravestone was shown to bear the inscription "I was Monty Stubble".[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ On some US prints, the title is Hell, Heaven or Hoboken, taken from an address made by the title character to US officers.[14]


  1. ^ Film credits and Variety film review; 5 November 1958, p. 7.
  2. ^ THE MAN WHO LOOKS LIKE MONTY Buchwald, Art. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]27 Nov 1958: B5.
  3. ^ I Was Monty's Double. By M. E. Clifton James (Book Review) G. M. O. D. The Spectator; London Vol. 193, Iss. 6582, (Aug 20, 1954): 239.
  4. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Tony Owen, Donna Reed To Film Montgomery Story Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 6 June 1956: b4.
  5. ^ BRITISH WAR BOOK BOUGHT FOR MOVIE: Todon, Independent Concern, Obtains Rights to Story of Montgomery's 'Double' Ray and Ryan to Co-Star By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.6 June 1956: 36.
  6. ^ Drama: 'Tea, Sympathy' Youths Will Costar; Scripter Going on Kelly Mission Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]09 June 1956: 13.
  7. ^ NOTED ON THE BRITISH MOVIE SCENE: Footnotes on 'Monty's Double'--Selznick's Hurdle--Addenda Royalty Outspoken Potpourri By STEPHEN WATTS LONDON. New York Times 17 June 1956: 103.
  8. ^ Drama: Third Cagney Subject Developed by Writer; Stevens Slates 'Feud' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 22 June 1956: 23.
  9. ^ A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Studio Has 4 McGowans, Not to Mention a Megowan Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]26 Aug 1956: D2.
  10. ^ O'Herlihy Plans Film in Ireland; Hitler Quest Themes Picture Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 1956: B7.
  11. ^ BRITAIN'S SCREEN SCENE: New York Times 28 July 1957: 69.
  12. ^ Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of The 1950s The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press USA. p. 180.
  13. ^ Axmaker, Sean. "Film article: 'I Was Monty's Double' AKA'Hell, Heaven or Hoboken'." TCM, 2019. Retrieved: 8 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Release Dates: 'I Was Monty's Double'." IMDb, 2019. Retrieved: 8 August 2019.
  15. ^ "New ABP, Rank Deal". Variety. 21 January 1959. p. 13.
  16. ^ NOTED ON THE MOVIE SCENE ALONG THE THAMES: New York Times 30 Nov 1958: X7.
  17. ^ "British stunt pays off". Variety. 23 February 1959. p. 13.
  18. ^ Review of film at Variety
  19. ^ Vagg, Stephen (17 November 2020). "John Guillermin: Action Man". Filmink.
  20. ^ Watts, Stephen (1962). Moonlight on a lake in Bond Street. Norton. p. 173.
  21. ^ "London". Variety. 12 November 1958. p. 62.
  22. ^ Wilmut, Roger; Grafton, Jimmy (1981). The Goon Show Companion – A History and Goonography. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-903895-64-1.


  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-57488-263-6.
  • Halliwell, Leslie. Leslie Halliwell's Film Guide. New York: Harper & Roe, 1989. ISBN 978-0-06016-322-8.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]