I'm like to think I'm a pretty smart person, but when it comes to movies I hardly ever figure out the twists before they occur. I know if I put my mind to it, I could.. but I'm usually so caught up in the story that I don't try to figure out what's going to happen while the movie is playing. Such was the case with Libel. I'd imagine some people out there might guess the ending before it happens or figure out all the twists before the movie is halfway finished... but I was surprised every step of the way, as confused and shocked as the screenwriters hoped their audience would be.
The film is about a wealthy British aristocrat, Sir Mark Sebastian Loddon, who sues a newspaper for libel after they print an accusation that he is an imposter. What seems like a simple case of slander actually turns into a case of stolen identity when it's revealed that there were two men -- almost identical -- who escaped from a POW camp together, Sir Mark Loddon and the scoundrel Frank Welney. Only one of them returned, and said he was Sir Mark.
As soon as they introduce the character of Frank Welney into the proceedings, you the viewer and all of the characters in the film are suddenly thrown into a sea of doubt. Is Sir Mark actually Frank Welney? If so, whatever happened to the real Sir Mark?
Dirk Bogarde plays Sir Mark Loddon in the present setting, Sir Mark in the prison camp flashbacks, and Frank Welney. Dirk Bogarde is one of those people who sometimes looks completely different from one photo to the next, so while his Sir Mark does look remarkably like Frank Welney, you don't for a minute doubt that these are two different people- not twins or one person playing dual roles. And his present-day Sir Mark looks even different still! It's really impossible to tell just from appearances which man is calling himself Sir Mark Loddon.
Libel has an outstanding supporting cast, including one of my favorite character actors, Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White (who is always, in my mind, Col. Pickering) and features a pretty impressive performance by Olivia de Havilland as Dirk Bogarde's wife. In a way, her role is connected to the audience in that what she feels, we feel. Close-ups of her reactions to developments in the case are used as hints as to what she is thinking, and what we should think. When she has complete faith in her husband, so do we. And when she doubts her husband, so do we.
If you're looking for an edge-of-your-seat courtroom thriller, I highly suggest Libel! And if you're just looking for a Dirk Bogarde film to enjoy, look no further than Libel, where you get two Dirk's for the price of one!
Libel is available to rent on Amazon here.
This post was originally published on my movie blog, Silents and Talkies.