On the Double (film)

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On the Double
On the Double 1961.jpg
1961 movie poster
Directed by Melville Shavelson
Produced by Jack Rose
Written by Melville Shavelson
Jack Rose
Starring Danny Kaye
Dana Wynter
Wilfrid Hyde-White
Margaret Rutherford
Diana Dors
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Geoffrey Unsworth
Edited by Frank Bracht
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • May 19, 1961 (1961-05-19)
Running time
92 min
Country United States
Language English

On The Double is a 1961 film, directed by Melville Shavelson, who also wrote the screenplay with Jack Rose. It stars Danny Kaye who plays, as in many of his films, two roles — in this case, an American soldier and a British General.


England, 1944. After an attempt on the life of British high commander Sir Lawrence MacKenzie Smith by German intelligence, all military camps in England are sealed off, resulting in leaves of absences being revoked. Ernie Williams (Danny Kaye), a most reluctant American soldier, hypochondriac and talented mimic, and his fellow conscript Joseph Praeger (Jesse White) are thus left trapped in an Allied army camp in southeast England just before they can return to the States. In order to relieve his frustration, Ernie impersonates MacKenzie during dinner in the mess hall; a British officer entering the building falls for his disguise, sparking the idea in Praeger to use Ernie as a double to get them out of the camp. However, Praeger's unfamiliarity with cars causes them to be caught before they even get out of sight of the gate guards.

The incident and Ernie's remarkable resemblance to MacKenzie cause Allied military intelligence leaders Colonel Somerset (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and Colonel Houston (Gregory Walcott) to consider recruiting Ernie (under threat of court-martial) as the General's political decoy, in order to thwart the plot to assassinate the General. After Ernie is presented to MacKenzie in person, the General agrees to the plan. MacKenzie's life is at stake because he is one of the leading strategists in the upcoming invasion of the European mainland; he is set to travel to Invasion Headquarters, adopting Ernie's identity as his disguise and vice versa in order to deceive German High Command. Only Sergeant Twickenham (Terence De Marney), MacKenzie's aide, is made privy to the situation, as he is to help Ernie maintain the deceit. However, the most vital detail - that Ernie will serve as a decoy target for German intelligence - is conveniently withheld from him.

Unfortunately, the situation gradually begins to unravel when MacKenzie's wife, Lady Margaret (Dana Wynter), returns prematurely from a war bond tour in Canada. Margaret quickly realizes Ernie's true nature and is out of necessity made familiar with the project, and taking pity on him, she tells Ernie more private details about MacKenzie which help complement his disguise. However, German intelligence continues its assassination attempts, which result in Twickenham getting poisoned, prompting Margaret to tell Ernie the entire truth. However, while trying to hand in his resignation from the project, Ernie and Margaret learn that the plane MacKenzie was travelling on was shot down by the Germans, with all hands lost, forcing Ernie to carry on the charade.

At a regimental party where Ernie is supposed to participate, the Secret Service intends to expose and apprehend a traitor who has been feeding information about MacKenzie to the Germans; one of his agents is revealed to be Captain Patterson (Allan Cuthbertson). During the party, Ernie loses a contact lens for his right eye, causing him to accidentally wreak havoc, and on Margaret's advice he pretends to be drunk and have a fight with his wife in order to have an excuse for leaving the party early. Afterwards, in private, Ernie and Margaret confess that they have developed feelings for each other, but then Ernie receives a message that the traitor was apparently caught and he is ordered back to Headquarters. On his way there, he is kidnapped by Patterson and his accomplice, MacKenzie's driver and mistress Sergeant Stanhope (Diana Dors).

Ernie is taken to Berlin and interrogated about the invasion plans, and his German interrogators refuse to believe his desperate attempts to explain that he is a mere decoy. Forced to go along with the game, he begins to blab about non-existent plans concerning the invasion, which the Germans readily take for the truth. Once left alone, Ernie acquires a list of German agents in Britain, facilitates his escape from German Headquarters and is chased through the streets of Berlin in the midst of a nocturnal bombing raid on the city. To throw off his pursuers, he keeps changing disguises on the proverbial run, including Adolf Hitler (which is instantly foiled when he runs into the real Adolf Hitler) and a cabaret act as "Fräulein Lilli" (copied from Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel) in a nightclub.

Finally, disguised as a pilot, Ernie boards a German bomber and manages to parachute out over England. Captured, he is brought to General Wiffingham (Rex Evans), a friend of MacKenzie's, but as he reads him the names on his list, Ernie discovers to his dismay that Wiffingham is the chief infiltrator within the British Secret Service. Fortunately, Somerset has in the meantime figured out Wiffingham's true allegiance himself, and rescues Ernie before Wiffingham can have him silenced by execution for espionage. The invasion proceeds smoothly, and what appears to be MacKenzie surprisingly returns from the dead, only to reveal himself to Margaret as Ernie, and the two end the film confessing their love for each other.


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