The Man Who Finally Died Review
Joe Newman, English jazz musician, was born Joachim Deutsch and spent the first nine years of his life in Germany. He came to the UK with his mother at the outbreak of World War II, leaving father behind to fight and, ultimately, to be killed in action. Or at least this is what Joe had thought for the past two decades. A phone call from someone claiming to be Deutsch Senior changes all that, forcing him to return to his native Bavaria in the hunt for the truth. But the intrigue is just beginning: Joe learns that his father had indeed survived the war (having escaped from a POW camp), only to pass away some six days before their chat on the telephone…
Prior to becoming a feature, The Man Who Finally Died was a television series. It screened as part of ITV’s Saturday night Suspense slot during the autumn of 1959 and featured Richard Pasco in the lead role. Stanley Baker replaced him for the movie version, though much of the key behind-the-scenes talent remained the same. Quentin Lawrence (previously responsible for Hammer’s excellent crime pic Cash on Demand as well as The Trollenberg Terror) directed both, while Lewis Greifer picked up the screenwriter credits. He was joined by Lewis Marks for the big screen adaptation, a fitting choice given how they would each go on to pen Doctor Who stories and provide scripts for series fronted by Patrick McGoohan. (Marks wrote an instalment of Danger Man with Greifer doing much the same for The Prisoner.) Clearly there were some common interests involved.
Indeed, The Man Who Finally Died shares certain traits with the future McGoohan assignments. The Bavarian locale brings to mind the globetrotting of Danger Man, while the ever-mounting sense of paranoia and conspiracy has an air of The Prisoner about it. Joe doesn’t know who to trust; only that he isn’t getting the full truth. Is his father still alive? Has he been murdered? Was it even him who had made the phone call? A succession of familiar faces enter the story at various points – Nigel Green, Peter Cushing, Eric Portman, an uncredited Brian Wilde – but only serve to confuse Joe even further. Is no-one willing to give him a straight answer?
Structurally it’s hard not to see the televisual origins. The plot works itself up to series of twists and revelations that function as mini-cliffhangers. Similarly, the parade of British actors provides a host of extended cameos that would have acted as single-episode guest appearances in the TV series. Be aware, however, that this doesn’t prove true in every case; fans of Cushing, for example, can look forward to a sufficiently meaty supporting turn. And yet The Man Who Finally Died also tries it very hardest to be as cinematic as possible. The black and white ’scope photography by Stephen Dade (who would soon be shooting Zulu) is the most obvious example, though Baker’s muscular performance goes a long way too. Donning shades for the most part, he ups the machismo and is never than watchable. In fact the entire film is solidly entertaining. It’s no classic, but with that cast and enough proficient filmmaking going on behind the scenes, it certainly warrants a look.
The Man Who Finally Died is the latest addition to Network Distributing’s ‘The British Film’ collection and follows the usual pattern. The film is packaged in a slimline case and comes with somewhat slim extras, in this case a 17-image gallery made up of mostly black and white production stills. With that said, the presentation is mostly solid and preserves the original 2.35:1 ratio (anamorphically enhanced). The image is practically spotless, if just a tad soft with some edge enhancement making itself known. Nothing too distracting, while the mono soundtrack copes just fine with the dialogue and Philip Green’s jaunty score. There are no optional subtitles, for the hard-of-hearing or otherwise.