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 General 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 assassination plot. After Ernie is presented to MacKenzie in person, the General, after some initial reservations, agrees to the plan. MacKenzie's life is at stake because he is the leading strategist 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 batman, 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.

The situation gradually begins to unravel when Lady Margaret (Dana Wynter), MacKenzie's wife, returns prematurely from a war bond tour in Canada to inform MacKenzie of her intention to divorce him, having tired of his neglect of her and his womanizing. As the result of Ernie's attempts to greet her with innocent marital affection, Lady Margaret quickly recognizes him as an impostor and is out of necessity made familiar with the situation. Taking pity on Ernie, she tells him more private details about MacKenzie which help complement his disguise. However, German intelligence continues its liquidation attempts, which result in Twickenham getting poisoned and a sniping attempt during a rallying speech to the troops, 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 is very nearly exposed as an impostor by his usual blunders and MacKenzie's aggressively domineering aunt, Lady Vivian (Margaret Rutherford). Acting upon Lady 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 that he is ordered back to Headquarters. On his way there, he is kidnapped by Captain Patterson and Sergeant Bridget Stanhope (Diana Dors), MacKenzie's driver and mistress as well as Patterson's accomplice.

Ernie is flown to Berlin and interrogated about the Allied invasion plans, and his German captors 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 invasion plots, which the Germans readily take for the truth. Once left alone, Ernie acquires a list of German agents in Britain and facilitates his escape from German Headquarters. Chased through the streets of Berlin in the midst of a nocturnal bombing raid, he keeps changing disguises on the proverbial run, including a brief stint as Adolf Hitler and a subsequent cabaret act in a Berlin nightclub as "Fräulein Lilli" (in the style of Marlene Dietrich as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel, singing a mash-up of the various running gag catchphrases that have been in use throughout the film in a Germanicized English word salad, all to the tune of the 1934 song Cocktails for Two.)

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 Nazi infiltrator within the British Secret Service. Somerset has in the meantime figured out Wiffingham's true allegiance on his own, and rescues Ernie before Wiffingham can have him silenced by summary execution by firing squad 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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