1959 Theatrical Poster
|Directed by||Anthony Asquith|
|Produced by||Anatole de Grunwald|
|Written by||Edward Wooll (play)
Anatole de Grunwald
by Edward Wooll
Olivia de Havilland
|Music by||Benjamin Frankel|
|Edited by||Frank Clarke|
Libel is a 1959 British drama film. It stars Olivia de Havilland, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Massie, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Robert Morley. The film's screenplay was written by Anatole de Grunwald and Karl Tunberg from a 1935 play of the same name by Edward Wooll.
While traveling in London, Jeffrey Buckenham (Massie), a Canadian Second World War veteran, sees Baronet Sir Mark Sebastian Loddon (Bogarde) on television, leading a tour of his grand family home. Buckenham was held in a German POW camp with Loddon, and while watching him, becomes convinced that he is in fact another former POW, Frank Wellney, an actor (also played by Bogarde) who shared their hut and bore an uncanny resemblance to Loddon. Buckenham writes a letter to a newspaper, publishing his suspicion that Wellney has usurped the young baronet's place.
Loddon sues Buckenham and the newspaper for libel, but his mind is still battered by some terrible incident that occurred during his escape fifteen years before, and he has little memory of that time.
During the trial, Buckenham and Loddon tell their versions of what happened during the war. Buckenham liked Loddon very much and despised Wellney. The three broke out together and headed west in search of the advancing Allied forces. One dark and misty night, having gone without food for days, Buckenham left the others alone to try to steal some from a nearby farm. As he was returning, he heard two shots. He saw one man in Battle Dress laying on the ground, apparently dead, and the other, in civilian clothes, running away. Buckenham was unable to get closer because German soldiers appeared, but Loddon was the one wearing Battle Dress.
Loddon is missing part of a finger on his right hand, just like Wellney, but Loddon claims he was shot in the finger during the escape. Loddon is also missing a childhood scar on his leg. Then there is the fact that Wellney's hair was prematurely white, as is Loddon's now. Buckenham recounts how Wellney was always asking Loddon about his personal life; Loddon even joked that Wellney could pass for him. As the evidence mounts, even Loddon's loyal wife (de Havilland) begins to doubt him.
Hubert Foxley (Hyde-White), the defence barrister, produces a surprise. It turns out that the third man was not dead after all, only wounded. His face was horribly disfigured, his right arm had to be amputated, and his mind had become unhinged. He has been living in a German asylum all this time. Foxley produces the man (and the Battle Dress) in court. The man and Loddon recognise each other.
In desperation, Loddon's barrister, Sir Wilfred (Morley), puts Lady Loddon on the stand, but she testifies that she now believes that her husband is the impostor. That night, Loddon goes for a walk, trying desperately to remember. Finally, his reflection in the canal unlocks his memories. Wellney did try to kill him while his back was turned, but he - Loddon - saw Wellney's reflection in the water and won the struggle. Then he fled from the Germans. In court, he cannot provide any evidence, until he remembers a keepsake he kept hidden in the lining of his Battle Dress: a medallion his then fiancee gave him. He finds it, and wins the case and his wife back.
- Dirk Bogarde as Sir Mark Loddon/Frank Wellney/Number Fifteen
- Olivia De Havilland as Lady Margaret Loddon
- Paul Massie as Jeffrey Buckenham
- Robert Morley as Sir Wilfred
- Wilfrid Hyde White as Hubert Foxley
- Anthony Dawson as Gerald Lodden
- Richard Wattis as The judge
- Martin Miller as Dr. Schrott
- Richard Dimbleby as Himself
According to MGM records, the film earned $245,000 in the US and Canada and $925,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $10,000.
Other adaptations of the play
The Broadway play, which had starred Colin Clive, was adapted for radio in 1941 using the original references to the First World War. Ronald Colman played the leading role in the 13 January 1941, CBS network Lux Radio Theater broadcast, with Otto Kruger and Frances Robinson. The role of an amnesiac World War I veteran had similarities to Colman's 1942 hit Random Harvest.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Variety film review; 21 October 1959, page 6.
- Harrison's Reports film review; 24 October 1959, page 170.
- Libel!, written by Edward Wooll and directed by Anthony Asquith, played on Broadway for 159 performances in 1935-1936. Libel at the Internet Broadway Database
- Reel Streets
- "The 32nd Academy Awards (1960) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
- "Libel" on Lux Radio Theater; 13 January 1941; at Internet Archive: Overview  and Recording 
- "Libel" (TV) 1938 Internet Movie Database