Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Man Who Finally Died (1962)
Nigel Green & Stanley Baker
Here's a rather odd film: what is it?
As I watched at first I thought it a spy drama, then I thought this is going to be about Nazi war criminals on the run - a sort of British Odessa File. Hang on, is it back to a spy thriller? Or is it an insurance fraud thriller? Wait a moment, we're back to the Cold War. This is getting confusing!
OK, let's get back to what we know - or at least, what I'm going to tell you because there's no way I'm revealing the ending, if you want to know that you'll have to watch it.
It starts in typical spy-drama circumstances: just like in an Eric Ambler novel, the central character finds himself unwittingly thrown into an international mystery that he seems fated not to escape from. So typically, he is a fish-out-of-water ...
Stanley Baker
... in this case a dark-glasses wearing, casually corduroy jacketed jazz musician adrift in small town Germany. It a curious peaceful version of Germany, yet bubbling under the surface are the ghosts of a war that had ended just 17 years earlier. As one character puts it: "Beneath the shining chromium and neon light the pain is still there."
Stanley Baker is the unlikely son a German officer who died in the war after Baker had been sent to live in the UK. Except that fifteen years later dad appears to have died again. When Baker receives this curious news he returns home to search for the truth. Except that no one wants him to know the truth. Not his father's most-recent wife ...
Mai Zetterling
... nor his old friend ...
Peter Cushing
... the local police ...
Nigel Green

Eric Portman
... the undertaker ...
Brian Wilde
... a mysterious insurance agent ...
Niall MacGinnis
... or even his old nanny:
Barbara Everest
It's a slightly dissatisfying film: the viewer feels cheated that eventually the story seems to drag their sympathies towards some unsavoury characters. Perhaps this simply reflects the post-war, Cold War, realities of the western powers having to accept former lower-level Nazis. Yet there is a darker side: what is the truth about Baker's father? And, in particular, what kind of man was Peter Cushing's character? What crimes had he committed? We are left with these doubts unresolved. Maybe that was pertinent in 1962, but for the modern viewer, more doubts remain.
Out of interest, whilst many scenes were filmed in Germany, others were shot in the UK. Here we see Baker visit his father's grave, supposedly in Germany but actually in Highgate cemetery. Here we see him outside the entrance to the Egyptian Avenue:
This earlier view is from Highgate cemetery's official website:
And when he visits Peter Cushing it is amidst the Gothic splendour of Oakley Court, just outside Windsor (a location most famous for its appearances in a number of Hammer films):

Here's a similar view from Oakley Court's website:

You can still see these statues outside the entrance to the hotel:

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